By Linda Rex
It never seems to fail that when someone I know is suffering through a really bad experience and is finding it impossible to bear any more suffering, that a well-meaning soul will say, “God never gives us more than we can handle.” I cringe inside because I’ve experienced the reality that sometimes God does give us more than we can bear. So when I hear that phrase, everything inside of me wants to scream out, “He does too!”
This is an unfortunate reading of 1 Corinthians 10:13, which actually talks about temptation to sin, not about suffering or affliction in general. In the NASB it reads:
“No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”
The context of this verse, then, focuses on temptations rather than afflictions or trials. In my opinion, overwhelming trials and afflictions are not what Paul is talking about here.
When reading Paul’s epistles, we see that he talks a lot about trials, afflictions and sufferings that are beyond our ability to bear. He talks about participating in Jesus’s sufferings and death so that we can share in his life. We learn from Jesus and his apostles that it is in dying that we live. It’s all about death and resurrection.
And suffering and grief are not just random events that have no purpose or value. They may be tools of the darkness and be designed to defeat and destroy, but the Light has come in Jesus. All these things must submit to the lordship of Christ, and fulfill the will and purposes of Almighty God. As the scripture says, we overwhelmingly conquer in Jesus.
The point is that God has in mind our perfection, our full reflection of his image. He also has in mind the renewal of all things. We don’t see the things God sees, nor can we fully understand his purposes or his methods. Our view is severely impacted by the pain and sorrow and suffering we may be going through at the moment and we may be unable to see that God does redeem and heal and restore in the end. Our humanity limits our ability to grasp the significance and purpose of all we experience in our lives.
God does indeed allow us to be “burdened excessively, beyond our strength”, even to the point where we despair of life. We are constantly “delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake”, but for a reason. God is refining us “as silver is refined.” He is teaching us to quit trusting in ourselves and to start trusting him completely. He is teaching us to die to ourselves so that he may fully live in us and through us. He is reminding us that we are the clay pots in which his divine Presence dwells.
The key to it all is what we believe about God and about Jesus Christ. Do we believe, really believe, that Jesus is who he said he is—the Son of God and the Son of man, and that he lived, died and rose again in our place? Because in the end, death is destined to end in resurrection. Just as Jesus died and rose again, so we too will have times when death seems certain, if not preferable, but which will in the end result in God raising us up to new life.
There is healing after loss, after divorce, after abuse. There is restoration after brokenness and destruction. We don’t always experience it immediately or completely, but God has declared it done and complete in Jesus Christ. He is our assurance that there is never anything he won’t go through with us, in us and for us. He said that nothing can separate us from the love he has for us in Christ.
So when God gives us more than we can bear, we can ask him for the grace to bear it. We have the opportunity to trust Christ to be for us in the Spirit all that we need in our moments of despair, struggle and grief. God doesn’t always take away the difficulty—we may have to go through it completely from one end to the other. But he will never fail to bring us in the end to the glorious result he had in mind from the beginning. So don’t lose heart. Don’t lose faith. Because Jesus is a risen Lord and God is faithful and he is love.
Dear God, in the midst of our struggle, loss, despair and grief, remind us that you have given us a risen Savior, a resurrected Lord, who has brought us, is bringing us, and will bring us, to new life in himself in the Spirit. Grant us the grace trust you to do what is best in every situation and to carry us through to a glorious and joyful end in your presence forever. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
“For You have tried us, O God; you have refined us as silver is refined. You brought us into the net; you laid an oppressive burden upon our loins. You made men ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water, yet You brought us out into a place of abundance.” Psalm 66:10-12 NASB
“For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us,…” 2 Cor. 1:8–10 NASB
“After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” 1 Pet. 5:10
“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” 2 Cor. 4:7–11
By Linda Rex
Recently, just for the fun of it, I’ve been watching some old episodes of Lost in Space. Since these were made back in the 1960’s, it’s amusing for me to see what was considered science fiction back then—reel to reel tapes and punch card computers, dials and buttons. The clothing and hairs styles of course are very 1960ish. And all these space adventures took place in the 1990’s and 2000’s (We aren’t even doing manned intergalactic space travel yet and it’s 2014!).
The ongoing pain-in-the-neck on the Robinson family’s space voyage is Dr. Zachary Smith. He seems to be the picture of every worst human trait—greed, dishonesty, laziness, and so on. He’s always finding a way to get out of having to work and spends his time getting himself and everyone else into dangerous predicaments. Whenever there is the slightest issue or problem, he goes into a despairing decline: “Oh, the pain…”
Vainly the Robinson family tries to reform him, but to no avail. Over and over, they swear they’re going to cast him adrift or abandon him to his fate because he deserves it. But once again, they choose love and grace over giving Dr. Smith what he deserves.
One night as I was working on a project and watching another episode of the series it occurred to me that in many ways, this whole thing was like a picture of the divine perichoretic relationship and us as humans. How often we are like Dr. Smith—annoying and offensive and downright diabolical. And yet, the Father, Son and Spirit continue to make room for us in their relationship of love and unity. We deserve to be cast adrift, to receive the full consequences for our choices, our unloving and corrupt behavior, but once again, God covers us with grace in Christ and brings us home.
Sadly, like Dr. Smith, we can receive warnings, corrections, and even the conviction of the Holy Spirit, and yet keep returning to our old, comfortable way of doing things. We can have a mirror held up and be shown our shortcomings and yet keep on following our destructive path.
But this isn’t how it needs to be. Because we have a God who is committed to us becoming all that he created us to be in Christ. He has formed us in his own image and will not cease to work toward that end in conforming us to the image of Christ.
One way in which we participate in this process is by choosing to allow the difficulties, strains and struggles of life to be used by God to transform us. We allow God to use sorrow and pain as a means of discipline—not punishment, but rather as a training tool. We let the strong winds of suffering build spiritual muscle in us.
We permit God to make changes in the way we think, believe, and act by responding to his Spirit and filling our minds with his Word. We choose to do the hard work of growing up in Christ rather than making every excuse in the book to keep from having to face the truth about ourselves. We, for the moment, choose sorrow over laughter—taking seriously God’s call to follow Christ wherever he leads on whichever path he chooses to take.
Unlike Zachary Smith, we don’t have to spend endless space miles caught in the corruption of human sin and depravity. When God goes to work, we become new people. It takes time—our whole life. But as we willingly participate in what God is doing to transform us—turning to Christ daily, trusting in his grace—change will come. Who we are at the beginning is not who we will be in the end. We have God’s word on that.
Thank you, Lord, that you have promised to perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish us. You have given us the privilege of sharing in your eternal glory in Christ. We trust you will finish what you have begun, in the name of the Father, Son and Spirit. Amen.
“Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom.” James 4:9
“After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 5:10–11
By Linda Rex
I love reading. I have a stack of books that I gathered while doing my thesis that I wanted to read but didn’t have the time to enjoy. Now that my schoolwork doesn’t take up all my down time, I’ve begun reading some of these, a few chapters each day.
This morning I was reading a chapter in the book “Authentic Faith” by Gary L. Thomas. This book is an interesting overview of certain spiritual disciplines that we as the Christian church in America sometimes overlook. I feel that learning and practicing spiritual disciplines as a means of putting ourselves in the presence of God and opening ourselves up to the Holy Spirit to work is an essential part of our spiritual formation or growing up in Christ.
So, as I started to say, I came across the spiritual discipline of mourning. Now I would have to assume that mourning is not something we as human beings would naturally choose to do. If anything, I’m thinking that most of us do everything we can to avoid feeling pain or having to deal with difficult situations, horror or suffering. Taking painkillers for pain is considered normal behavior in our society. So much so that they are often abused. And many people use other forms of dealing with pain that are not always healthy—alcohol and drug abuse for example.
Unfortunately, the reality is that pain, suffering and grief are a part of our natural human condition. I believe one of the reasons such suffering, evil and pain are a part of our world today is because we as human beings do not practice the spiritual discipline of mourning. When an evil is perpetrated against another human being—we may make that a big news story in the media or on the Web, but how does it affect us personally? Do we feel the pain that goes along with the evil? Do we weep at the injustice and groan inwardly at the carnage? Are we then motivated by our sorrow to right the injustice or to heal the hurt? Rarely.
I don’t know about you, but too often I find my own self turning away from the story because I can’t bear the pain. I turn away and miss God’s invitation to mourn with him over the suffering in his world. I fail to participate in Christ’s suffering by refusing the opportunity to weep and sorrow over the injustice and depravity I witness. I too often am blind to the grief of others or am insensitive and thoughtless in responding to their suffering.
This week many Christians the world over participated in the observance of Ash Wednesday. The observance of this day marks the beginning of the season of Lent, which precedes the Easter celebrations marking the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Lent is typically the season in which Christians practice penitence, fasting from certain foods or items in acknowledgement of their need for and appreciation of God’s grace.
One of the things I think we can overlook as we consider the concept of mourning evil, grieving losses, and practicing penitence, is that these things are not something we as Christians have to do all on our own as though they are something we owe God, ourselves or each other. Rather, we practice penitence, repentance, grief, and mourning as a participation in Christ’s grief, penitence, repentance and mourning. It’s never something we do on our own—we are joined with God in Christ by the Spirit, and we share in his grief, his suffering, his mourning over loss, sin, evil, pain and injustice.
Just as Jesus obeyed God’s call through John the Baptizer by being baptized on behalf of all humanity for the remission of sins, so also did he obey the will of the Spirit who led, or drove, him out into the wilderness where he fasted for 40 days. In the midst of Jesus’ penitence on our behalf, he came face to face with evil. And he did not look away.
He did not give up his penitence to stifle the hunger in his stomach. The devil was right that Jesus could have made the stones into bread, but Jesus never used his divinity to serve himself. He only used it to serve others and to serve us.
Jesus did not give up his penitence, his identifying himself with us in our humanity and sinfulness, even to prove his identity as the Son of God. Nor did he pursue his own shortcut to glory by submitting to evil and turning his back on humanity. He chose the path of humility and humanity, of being the Servant Messiah even when it meant he would be treated like a common criminal, rejected, crucified and murdered by those he came to rescue.
Jesus went all the way with us and for us. And as the perfect reflection of God, he demonstrated to the core of his being that God is for us and against evil in any shape and form. If God in Jesus was willing to choose to do this so that we could be and would be free from the clutches of evil, how can we do any less ourselves?
Significantly, after Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem to the adoring cries of “Hosanna”, one of the first things he did was to weep over the city who refused to repent and receive the Messiah God had sent them. He grieved over the pain, the suffering, and the evil. He mourned.
Even though we can have great joy that God in Christ has once and for all triumphed over evil, we also are privileged to suffer and grieve with God over, and in the midst of, the pain, injustice and evil of this broken world. God has given us eternal hope in Jesus and we can, in the midst of all that breaks our heart, point suffering and grieving people to the One who suffers and grieves with them and for them. We can, in Christ, participate in God’s work to relieve the suffering and right the injustices in the world. In the perichoretic life and love of Father, Son and Spirit, there is room for the depths of grief and suffering, the struggle against evil and injustice, just as there is room for the fullness of joy everlasting. For this we live in gratitude.
Lord, we are grateful for your grace, for the reality that we are never alone in our grief and sorrow. You grant us the privilege of participating in your suffering just as you, Jesus, took on our humanity with all its weakness, suffering and brokenness. Grant us the grace to cease our efforts to kill the pain, and to begin to just walk in the midst of it with you, allowing you to redeem all that is evil, hurtful and unjust, and to cause it to serve your purposes rather than the purposes of the evil one. For you, God, will and do have the last word in all these things, and we trust you to love us and do what is best for us no matter what. Gratefully, in your precious name, Jesus, we pray. Amen.
“For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later.” Romans 8:16–18 NLT