11th Sunday after Pentecost
August 5, 2018
“Stuff I Always Wanted to Know, But Never Asked”; Questions about Suffering
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Today I begin a 4-week sermon series called “Stuff I Always Wanted to Know, But Never Asked.” Today we tackle the first topic of suffering.
My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,
Hey…no one can call me a coward! I could have buried these questions or ignored them or saved the toughest for last; I’ll start with some of the toughest questions. Yeah, there were only 2 questions submitted about suffering, but I think everyone will be interested in the answers. Today our topic is “suffering” and here are the questions (paraphrased) to be answered: “I have experienced so much (that’s) negative and at times I have quit caring about me and my future. How can I have solid faith amid such a cruddy past?” and “Why is God not answering me? (Does my) continuous suffering means he is punishing me? What is his will in my life?” See what I mean?
As people, as Americans, as Christians, we talk about suffering often, for it is a significant part of everyone’s life. When Christians talk about suffering, we always tell of how God uses our suffering for our good (Romans 8:28). Others may laugh at that notion, but that is the truth we confess knowing it’s easier to confess than actually live in that promise.
We don’t talk very much, though, of how to endure suffering. Don’t get me wrong or have the wrong impression; this is not a how-to sermon that is so popular in other circles, where we’re told that with certain 4-5 steps, all can be made better and God will smile kindly upon us. Not always. This is a sermon on what we do when we, as God’s people, are brought into suffering and what our attitude and understanding are, to see/find the good in our suffering, and how we try to discern God’s will – His plan – for our lives. Is suffering an indication that the “plan” has gone amiss?
I am going to try and answer today’s questions using verses from Lamentations. “Lamentations!” you might wonder, and I recognize it’s a very sad and gloomy book, but Lamentations shines a lot of light on these questions.
First of all, Jeremiah – the assumed author of Lamentations – reminds us of three things while we suffer in our lives. First, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases” (3:22). That’s good to remember when life gets tough; God doesn’t hate us one day then love us another. His grace and love is unconditional, unending, and perfect even when our lives seem less-than-perfect. Secondly, God’s mercies are “new every morning” (3:23). Every day is a new chance for God’s mercy to extend and make the day, situation, or life better. That doesn’t mean that it will be healthier and happier automatically, but the hope is always there!
Jeremiah goes on in verse 26: “It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” Wait quietly? Who does he think he’s kidding? Wait quietly? But doesn’t God see how bad off I am? Doesn’t God care how uncomfortable I’ve become? Doesn’t He know how lonely I am? Doesn’t He know how anxious I am about my past and my future? Why me, God? I want some answers here, God! Now…does that sound like waiting quietly? Not so much. One of the first lessons they teach in Mass Communications is that you cannot listen if you’re always talking.
As the people of God, we are encouraged here in Lamentations and elsewhere to show silent, godly endurance and patience. If we’re not waiting quietly, how can we hear what God has to say to us? If our complaining and moaning and grumbling is non-stop, when do we have the time or opportunity to be still and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10)? The nightmares of grief and pain and trouble that we experience TEACH us something…they teach us to throw ourselves wholly upon the Lord our God and wait for the good that is yet to come! We will never hear God’s comfort if we’re always groaning.
And let us not forget, we have a God that was willing to do this Himself for us first. Lamentations 3:28-29 read “Let him sit alone in silence when it is laid on him; let him put his mouth in the dust—there may yet be hope.” Also, consider Isaiah 53:7 – “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.” Jesus would later fulfill Jeremiah’s and Isaiah’s words: “And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” But he remained silent and made no answer” (Mark 14:60-61, NIV). Even in the face of His own suffering that led to torturous death, Jesus remained silent. What an awesome example!
And in His silent sacrificial endurance, Jesus Christ gave His body and blood that you will not have to. He gave all that was needed for the forgiveness of our sins and life everlasting. He endured the suffering of hell itself that you might be spared that pain because you have eternal salvation through faith in Jesus. Jesus’ suffering was for a reason…and our suffering is for a reason, too.
Today’s questions want to know how to deal with the difficult life God has provided. Your life isn’t difficult because of God; it’s difficult because of SIN. The answer is He doesn’t provide a difficult life for us; He provides a “forgiven” life for us. We suffer for a reason. Not for punishment; God’s punishment against sin was poured out upon Jesus at the cross. We suffer because God allows us to suffer to draw us closer to Him. Job 36 tells us “(God) delivers the afflicted by their affliction” (v. 15). In other words, GOD IS AT WORK IN OUR LIVES WHEN WE SUFFER! When you are down to nothing in this life, God is clearly up to something! God does not choose for us to suffer; He chooses for us to be loved, to be forgiven, to be His own people in and through Baptismal faith.
Consider Romans 5, that great familiar passage which I have cited many times, teaches “we rejoice in our sufferings (how counter-cultural!), knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame” (v. 3-5). Just imagine…your suffering ultimately produces hope. God allows you to suffer in order that you would be drawn closer to Him. Only an Almighty God can pull that stunt off!
It is my prayer for you all – not just those 2 folks – that you will know in the midst of your own trials and tribulations – whatever they may be – that the promise and hope that God provides through His love and grace is far greater than anything you may be asked to endure. May you always draw strength from the hope that is yours in, through, and because of Jesus.