Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A theology of suffering (I)

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” ~Job 1:21

In addition to atonement, Christ also accomplished the work of the "new and living way" (Heb. 10:20) upon the cross, effectively gifting us the fullness of His life and its characteristics.  While no Christian would disagree with this doctrine, there has been an egregious falsehood perpetuated in the modern church-- that which says the life of Christ is one of blessings, riches, and rewards should the Christian devote his life to the Lord.

The summation of this false doctrine is being sold as the "prosperity gospel," which brands God as a god of blessings and prosperity for His children.  Many supporters and teachers of this "gospel" are quick to cite scriptural verses supporting the notion of God's abundant provision to His people.  But like the multitude of false doctrines out there, the prosperity gospel discounts entire portions of scripture, in effect cherry picking that which supports its cause.  Not only is the excessive and idolatrous pursuit of riches condemned (1 Tim. 6:1-10), James actually implores the rich to boast when their wealth, status, reputation, etc. is battered by trials (James 1:9-10).

With the shooting rampage in Colorado nearly two weeks ago and ongoing suffering that takes place daily in our world (much of which happens against Christians), it is a question indeed whether or not we are blessed to live abundantly and prosperously once we give our lives to Christ.  Both experience and the Lord's word tells us affirmatively "no," pointing to moments where believers are led into death (Acts 7:54-60) and severe suffering (Job 1) in accordance to God's will.

One must remember that a life lived in the fullness of Christ is one that reflects the very life that the Son Himself lived.  While that does not include the atoning work of His sacrifice on the cross (that work is complete), it does incorporate the suffering, persecution, tears, and submission to the Father that Jesus experience throughout His time on the earth.  In 1 Peter 4, the very reason for our suffering is stated as being reflective of what the Lord Himself had to go through.  Thus, the secondary work of salvation is not just to bring believers into mere belief of Christ, but also into suffering for Him (Philippians 1:29).

It is a gratifying reminder that as the Lord gives and takes away, we are at His mercy from day to day.  The fact that we still live despite our revelry in sin is an amazing testament to His grace.  Ultimately, our mind must trust in God's sovereignty and that His ways are far higher than ours.

Because of the length of this exposition on suffering, I'll include a second-part follow-up which will describe the dynamics of corporate and individual sufferings, and how we, as believers, should respond.

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