You are hereSuffering
"For this slight momenary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal." 2 Cor 4:17-18
This was a scripture in our small group bible study this week. It prompted some good discussion, and I have not stopped thinking about it. I don't think Paul's point here is to urge his readers to live for unseen things. He does that elsewhere. By this point in 2 Corinthians, it is an assumption that the Christian is looking to unseen things.
Here Paul argues that he is able to overcome his current suffering for Christ by looking to eternal things rather than transient things. Similar principles may apply to general suffering if we can understand it in light of the seen/unseen dichotomy. However, sometimes it is our focus on transient things that causes us suffering. This is particularly true of psycological suffering such as stress or anxiety. We worry about the opinions of others. We stress about the level of education our children are receiving when they will almost certainly be in the top 10 percent. According to Matthew 6:25-34 even our fear about where our next meal will come from is misplaced. And these are probably the most important things that take our energy. Paul, however, is suffering because of the rejection of the Gospel. His suffering is both psychological and physical, but he can overcome because he looks to unseen realities for his true identity and comfort. He knows God is his father, and he trusts that whatever happens, it is the result of God's care for him.
This prompted me to wonder about what makes me think I suffer, what I spend my money on, and what I spend my time doing. Could someone look at my life and say, "He is living for unseen things?" I am not sure. I think this may be the true mark of the Christian. It will look different at different times and in different people's lives, but I think it is the difference. Do I live out of fear an anxiety that comes from living for transient things or out of the confidence that comes from living for eternal things?
In my discussion with my small group, I said that maybe we should pray for opportunities to suffer as Paul did. Thankfully, some of them pulled me back from my asceticism. Instead, we should pray that the Holy Spirit will not leave us alone living for seen things. As we are driven to live for unseen things we will inevitably suffer because we will be running contrary to the world.
If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. John 15:18
Last week in my sunday school class we talked about how we as American evangelicals rarely think about or long for the second coming of Christ. I think this is because we have largely fulfilled our needs through technological advance. The only suffering we consistently face is the suffering of being denied needs of Maslow's upper levels. And, psychologists and pharmocologists are trying to solve these problems through various methods.
Granted people still die, and many suffer with various diseases, but the constant threat of death and hunger are largely absent from our minds. We have recently been watching episodes of Little House on the Prairie. Death and hunger were almost constantly knocking. Suffering was real and imminent. It was more a question of when than if.
I can't help but think of the millions that live in unimaginable conditions of filth and hunger. I think of the thousands that die of malaria because they don't have $5 mosquito nets to sleep under. These people are longing for the salvation of the body. They understand an aspect of the salvation that Christ came to give that we do not. In fact, we may fail to understand the gospel when we interpret it in terms of mere self-actualization.
Our success in eradicating many forms of suffering increases our confidence that it is only a matter of time before we solve all problems of suffering. It is this confidence that makes it hard for the rich to enter the Kingdom of heaven. In addition, scripture virtually guarantees suffering. Christ himself predicts that his disciples will suffer because if the world hated him, it will also hate us. It almost makes me wonder what we are doing wrong that we are not more hated. I wonder if the yeast of the worldliness has so worked its way through the dough of the church that we are no longer offensive. This could only mean that our churches fail to preach the radical gospel of free merit.
Christ preached that merit can be obtained with no work at all. He offered his own body to pay my debt. He offered a perfect life to merit my reward. Very few things are more offensive than elevating the outcasts of a society. It flies in the face of the values of a society and often provokes anger from the highest and lowest of social orders. These kinds of rules are not made to be broken. Christ broke these rules when he touched the leper, forgave the adulteress, talked with the woman at the well, welcomed the children, and ate with the tax collectors and prostitutes.
Who are those people in our society? Do we have what it takes to live as Christ? If we have truly believed, we do. His Holy Spirit lives in us, and pries the cold dead fingers of our flesh from the idols of this world. Our new life in Christ reaches out to those for whom Christ came; that is, those who have need.
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I can't write another entry without mentioning Hurricane Katrina. The power of the created world is awsome. Sometimes, it seems like man has taken control of the whole world, and others it seems that chaos reigns. Sometimes, these coexist.
Much has been written and said about the subject. I will offer this one thought. I have heard comments referring to the truly moronic behavior of some of the residents of the Gulf Coast to the effect of why didn't we just let them die. Because of my culture, I am amazed that anyone would say this. My culture might secretly think similar thoughts and express them more subtly, but it is difficult to not think that you are certainly better than looters carrying plasma TVs to flooded apartments.
After thinking a while, I realized the arrogance of both kinds of people. We really think that we deserve what we have. Be it our education, our hard work, our religious righteousness, our citizenship, some law, we believe has justified the inequity that exists in this world. It is our theodicy, our answer to the problem of evil. While we look down on televangelists saying that God is punishing that Sodom of a place, we are effectively saying, if only you had lived like me you would not be suffering.
This is pure evil. There is no good explanation for the inequity that exists in this world. God did not create this world for such a condition, and he gave his son to restore it and even surpass this original paradise. We must merely believe what he has done to be included in that process. Truth be told, it is more difficult to explain the good in this world than it is the evil. There is no reason besides God's love I can see for why we are not all hopelessly condemned. We were helpless looting fighting flood victims when he pulled us onto his lifeboat. We had only contempt to offer when he offered us new life.
Those looking for information on the relief effort in Bell County see:
http://www.templebiblechurch.org (follow link to bulletin board)
Hopefully I don't get myself in trouble with this one...but I guess I could say that with many posts...
I must say that I ingested more alcohol than normal at UC but still managed to stay completely sober the entire time. That is more than I can say for my collegues. I say this tongue in cheek. Having not grown up around alcohol, and having discovered it in the safe environment of conservative, reformed presbyterianism, I have not experienced much of its darker side.
It is painful for me to see people that I love turning to such a cheap relief for their pain. This is not to say that alcohol can't help relax the shoulders, but a constant use of the drug to escape reality is damaging to the body and the soul. Like any comfort, even Christ, suffering is inevitable. The difference is that with Christ, the suffering is temporary and the relief is permanent.
Certainly, I know draw of escape, and I have first hand experience with the flesh seeking this kind of relief. The problem is in believing that this is lasting relief or that the temporary relief is best. It is an affront to Christ and his claim that he has accomplished the healing of all things. Our faith in his claims is what gives us hope until we experience the fullness of that healing.
Sunday night after debriefing from the small group, Courtney and I watched Hotel Rwanda. My first exposure to the movie was through a sermon. Since then, I have been wanting to see the movie. The quote in the sermon was about how westerners will see the atrocities in Rwanda, feel sad, and then go on eating their dinner. This quote, and this movie causes a great deal of ambivalence in my heart. I have watch news of tragedies even while I was eating my dinner. How many tragedies do I hear about in the course of a day? I have relatively little exposure to mass media, but I must hear about at least 2 per day through the radio, TV, or internet. How the heck am I supposed to do something about them all? Not only are they so numerous, but the scale is so vast. Millions killed in third world natural disasters. Hundreds of thousands killed by terrorists or in civil wars. It prompts the age-old question, "Can one man make a difference?" Hotel Rwanda says, "Yes." Paul, an upper middle-class Rwandan hotel manager risks everything to save the lives of 1200 of his countrymen. He doesn't sell all he has and give to the poor. He doesn't abandon his family and join the Tutsi rebels. Instead, he becomes a hotel manager in a time of crisis. God prepared him through his hard work and even his sin, as he confesses, to know how to talk to people in power and to know how to work the system. Paul risked his own welfare for the sake of others. Tim George, the director, used Paul and his story to show the apathy and lack of interest by the West in stopping the genocide in Rwanda. Whatever your politics, your heart should be broken by the hideousness of the tragedy. God did not intend the world to be like this! There may be good reasons for a country like the US not to intervene. But, it must be saying "No" while we weep. Sometimes I am aghast at the coldness with which many who would tout the U.S. as a Christian nation callously turn a dry eye from a neighbor who is suffering. Sadly, I sometimes see this in the mirror. It is a small leap to see Christ in Paul and his own giving up of himself so that others might be saved. Ironically, it is through Christ's death that he frees from our idols of comfort and control so that we are free to, like him, love others who are in no way capable of helping us. We can give without asking, "What's in it for me?" While we may not be able to affect the complicated politics of Africa to stop genocide practicing this love, we can powerfully affect our own family, our brothers and sisters in Christ, and our neighbors. Who knows what good works God is preparing us for? When our hearts are torn away from our idols and cemented in love to him, God can greatly use one man or woman to accomplish great things for his kingdom.
I had a real struggle with the sin in my life today. I didn't face the temptation of an adulterous woman. I didn't face the call to greedily bow to the god of mammon. But, I faced my own struggle with pleasing man, keeping up appearances, and maintaining the status quo.
While we were getting ready for church the morning of the wind storm, Courtney noticed the neighbors gathering outside. She wanted to go out, but I, still in my robe, said that we needed to hurry and get ready for church.
I knew right then that the right thing for me to do was to put on my work clothes, get out there and help, but I was afraid of what people would think. What would Courtney think about that idea? What would people think if I skipped church? What would my neighbors thinking of me butting into their business? So, we proceeded to get ready for church.