Joyful In Suffering?
Have you suffered? Have you seen others suffer and wondered why? Everyone knows how the world persecuted the early Christian church, and the world began to so shortly after the apostles began to preach. In Acts 5:17-42, Luke tells us how Jerusalem’s High Priest, all the High Priest’s companions, and members of the local party of the Sadducees became extremely jealous of the apostles. So they had the apostles arrested and whipped. What’s astounding is how the apostles reacted.
Acts 5:41-42 Good News Translation (GNT)
41 As the apostles left the Council, they were happy, because God had considered them worthy to suffer disgrace for the sake of Jesus. 42 And every day in the Temple and in people’s homes they continued to teach and preach the Good News about Jesus the Messiah.
Why would the apostles choose to suffer and do so with joy? Why did they not hate Jesus for bringing such pain upon them? What does the Bible say? What did they and the people who wrote the Bible give as their reason? How does Jesus explain the problem of pain? Why does evil exist?
Why Does Evil Exist?
On October 5th, Robert R Barkman will start A 7-Part Bible Study Series, “The Existence Of Evil.” I listened to Barkman’s video series, Why Does Evil Exist?, and that was very good (Here is the pdf version). Barkman’s Biblical exposition makes it much easier to understand how God uses the suffering that results from evil to sanctify Christians. Therefore, I expect the Bible study version to be well worth taking the time to digest.
I could try to condense what Barkman has prepared, but I think the subject too difficult and important. We all need to listen to or read a Biblical presentation on the nature of evil such as that Barkman has prepared.
What is Suffering?
Last Sunday, my pastor preached from the Book of Lamentations, reminding me of this chilling, yet strangely hopeful book. In Lamentations, the prophet Jeremiah weeps over the grizzly destruction of Jerusalem. Imagine living through what the prophet describes.
Lamentations 2:17-22 Good News Translation (GNT)
17 The Lord has finally done what he threatened to do:
He has destroyed us without mercy, as he warned us long ago.
He gave our enemies victory, gave them joy at our downfall.
18 O Jerusalem, let your very walls cry out to the Lord!
Let your tears flow like rivers night and day;
Wear yourself out with weeping and grief
19 All through the night get up again and again to cry out to the Lord;
Pour out your heart and beg him for mercy on your children—
Children starving to death on every street corner!
20 Look, O Lord! Why are you punishing us like this?
Women are eating the bodies of the children they loved!
Priests and prophets are being killed in the Temple itself
21 Young and old alike lie dead in the streets,
Young men and women, killed by enemy swords.
You slaughtered them without mercy on the day of your anger.
22 You invited my enemies to hold a carnival of terror all around me,
And no one could escape on that day of your anger.
They murdered my children, whom I had raised and loved
Because it was drawn out, and the people of Jerusalem were starved as well as brutalized, Jeremiah said the people of Jerusalem suffered more than the peoples of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19). Nonetheless, in the middle of Lamentations, Jeremiah includes these lines.
Lamentations 3:22-30 Good News Translation (GNT)
22 The Lord’s unfailing love and mercy still continue,
23 Fresh as the morning, as sure as the sunrise.
24 The Lord is all I have, and so in him I put my hope.
25 The Lord is good to everyone who trusts in him,
26 So it is best for us to wait in patience—to wait for him to save us—
27 And it is best to learn this patience in our youth.
28 When we suffer, we should sit alone in silent patience;
29 We should bow in submission, for there may still be hope.
30 Though beaten and insulted, we should accept it all.
Imagine. Put yourself where Jeremiah stood. Could you admit that you and the people of Jerusalem deserved God’s wrath? Could you accept the fact God’s wrath has a merciful purpose?
We don’t usually think of choosing what we suffer. Nonetheless, we do have choices both in what we suffer and why we suffer. Consider the words of the Apostle Peter.
1 Peter 3:13-17 English Standard Version (ESV)
13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.
Peter spoke as one who knew his end, crucifixion (John 21:18-22). Therefore, when he wrote of choosing to suffer for doing what is right, he spoke as one practicing what he preached.
What is the alternative? The Book of Lamentations tells us of that. When God wants us to reform, He helps us understand the evil we do by letting us experience the outcome of our deeds. Therefore, when the people of Jerusalem insisted upon doing evil, God allowed an evil nation to take them captive.