Summary: What the Word of God says about suffering.
WHAT THE BIBLE TEACHES ABOUT SUFFERING?
Let me begin this sermon with a personal reflection to you. You all know that a few weeks ago my grandfather died. I don’t think I have ever experienced loss as great in my life before. I sat with him on the Saturday before he died, I had written him a long letter the week before telling him how much I loved him and how he had influenced my life. The last words he spoke to me were to follow Christ and all would be alright. I had to fly to Uganda the day of his funeral. You know I would not have chosen that to be the time he died. I would not have chosen for him to become sick and bedridden over the past few months. Yet without that I would never have sat down and wrote him that letter. I would never have had the opportunity to talk with him about Jesus, to pray with him, to bring him HC, to hear him witness from his death bed to my cousins. My aunt would never have heard him singing ‘What a friend we have in Jesus.’ His suffering I did not understand. His suffering was not as a result of any sin, other than old age. Did God send it? I don’t know. Did God allow it? Yes. Did God use it? Yes for his glory and the furtherance of his kingdom in my life and in the life of many within my family. Why am I telling you this? It is not for your sympathy vote but to say to you I am not just preaching an academic subject here this morning. This is real.
I have been your pastor now for over six years. I have been connected with HT for over nine years. In those years I have sat with many of you through painful and pain filled experiences. I have been at the hospital bedside when someone has died. I have sat while we prayed and worried through an illness. I have sat with you and listened to personal tragedies, personal pains and personal sorrows. That has been the privilege of my life. So what I want to say this morning to you all concerning suffering I do so conscious of the amount of suffering and pain that is in this family of God. I am very conscious of the fact that many of you have endured more than most in this family will ever experience in their lives or will ever know in their lives. The pain of suffering for all of us is real. We are not to ignore it, nor dismiss it but we are going to listen for God’s voice in it – because sometimes it is the only way he has of getting our attention and because it is the only voice which matters in the face of suffering. Because he alone has the answer to it. So this morning I pray with all my being that you hear God speak to your soul in this area of suffering.
Imagine the scene: A group of men are walking along a dusty road. Sitting by the roadside begging is a blind man. He has been so since birth. Most days no one takes any notice of him. If by chance they do and are moved to pity, not compassion, they toss him a few coins. They do so more to appease their own conscience than out of any sense of compassion for this man. Today however, is going to be different. Today a group of men stop. Then he hears one of them ask a question: ‘Who sinned this man or his parents that he was born blind?’ Does that not seem a dreadfully insensitive question to ask? Yet for the disciples of Jesus it was a perfectly natural question. They lived in a world that believed all sickness, all suffering was a result of sin, either your own sin or that of your parents. We will come to Jesus’ answer in a few moments. But let me change tack for a moment. Do you and I not ask the same question of God when we ask ‘Why?’ in the face of suffering.
A crowd gather at a graveside and ask Why death? Why this person? Why now? The doctor tells a young couple they cannot have children and they ask Why us? The man is told he has a terminal illness and he asks Why me? The woman is called into the office and told her job is going and she asks Why now? We encounter difficulties, suffering, evil and we turn immediately to God and ask Why? Why did you allow this? Have I not been faithful? Have I not been striving to serve you with all my heart? We demand answers of God?