Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Is it Uncommon for a Christian to Suffer?

While Christians will never have to suffer the wrath of God, it is no secret that we will have to endure temporal sufferings. I have been pondering lately the Prosperity Theology that is popular in American culture today. While it is being reported that "real Christians" do not suffer and people with "strong" or "genuine" faith are healed of their diseases...I wondered how those sort of statements match up with the reality of Christians in the world who experience pain on a daily basis.

Is suffering really a relevant topic? Is it something that is commonly experienced in the Church, or is pain, as Job friends so erroneously pointed out, just the product of God's judgment and unconfessed sin?

I decided to do a few Google searches. I guess I figured if there are not a lot of suffering Christians in the world, perhaps some key searches would turn up, "Sorry, no results found for your search" or maybe, "5 of 5 links displayed."

Here is what I found after a few off-the-top-of-my-head searches:

Suffering Makes us Strong 39,400,000
Suffering and Christ 13,600,000
Why do I suffer? 108,000,000
I love God but I still suffer 20,600,000
Why does God make us suffer? 22,800,000
Purpose of suffering? 36,200,000
Do Christians suffer? 9,050,000

108,000,000 people go online to ask the question, "Why do I suffer?"

It is easy to read this sentence with the emphasis on the word why, as in, "Why do I suffer?" But I wonder if it could not also be interpreted by emphasizing another word in the phrase, namely, "Why do I suffer?"

Maybe one reason over one hundred million people are asking this question is not because they do not know the source or purpose of suffering, but in light of what is being preached in many churches today (that good, godly, "real" Christians do not suffer) they wonder why in light of all their good works and love for Christ, they are "failing."

Preaching that Christians will not suffer will not automatically decrease suffering. It will perhaps, however, cause godly men and women who are deeply loved by God to question His faithfulness and goodness to them because God is not treating them the way their pastors say He should be treating them.

Suffering is real. The Bible tells us over and over again to expect suffering and to in fact, not be surprised when it happens. The Bible also teaches us how to prepare for suffering, how to respond to it, and what the rewards for overcoming it will be.

Verses in Scripture that talk about our "not falling" or our "not suffering" should be read in a broader, Christ-exalting, eternal sense. Namely, we will not fall away from God and ultimately lose our salvation. We will not suffer the loss of our souls or suffer the sheer terror of facing God's wrath on judgment day apart from the intercession of Christ Jesus.

Until then, we are called to suffer and to rejoice insofar as we share in Christ's sufferings, so that we may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed.

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