Perhaps it may turn out a sang,
Perhaps turn out a sermon.

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Occasional Masquerade

[Let] no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this.  For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know. – 1 Thessalonians 3:3-4

We, as Christians, have to live with a tension between the grace of God, His protection and provision, and constant tribulation.  There are probably Christians who don’t have any trouble.  The late R.W. Schambach used to say, “You don’t have any trouble.  All you need is faith in God.”  I know what he meant.  We do have trouble, and faith gets us through it.  It’s like Paul saying that our present light afflictions are nothing compared to the weight of the eternal glory these afflictions are working out for us. 

As quoted above, Paul is writing to the church at Thessalonica to encourage them.  They had heard that the Apostle was undergoing difficulties and persecution.   The question naturally arises in the minds of some people as to why such a good and godly man, a chosen and highly favored minister of the New Covenant in Christ should be suffering maltreatment and reversals. 

One of my oldest and best friends is an Assembly of God preacher.  We are practically brothers.  W go by the same given name.  Though we are currently separated by close to a thousand miles, if he and his wife needed something or if we did, we would do whatever it takes to get there to help or they to get here.  He, his wonderful wife, and their two adult daughters are all dedicated to serving the Lord in full-time ministry.  They have all kinds of turmoil, sickness, and financial difficulties.  They are better people than I will ever be, yet I couldn’t get sick if I wanted to and I have no debt and adequate money.  Someday I might even get to retire.  They live in a bad area of the country in a rented house in a questionable neighborhood.  By comparison, my situation is paradise. 

Nevertheless, I know that they have the “favor of God”, as people like to say.  Would I trade my situation for theirs?  Perhaps I answered that question twenty-five years ago when I decided that I was not called to be a pastor or minister of any kind, not so much because I feared the trials as because somebody has to plow the corn.  By that time I had met too many preachers who would have made fairly good shoe salesmen.   

Paul didn’t want his friends to be discouraged because of what was going on with them or with him.  God’s protection doesn’t always look much like protection from the world’s perspective.  In fact, sometimes it looks as though God has abandoned or is in hiding from those who most earnestly seek Him. 

God sometimes cloaks Himself, coming to us in places and ways and guises such that we are apt to miss Him if we are not alert and aware.  Our afflictions may be the way through which He gives us new insights, enables us to make new connections, and opens new doors.  He slows us down, keeps us back from some major disaster through a minor one.  We never know, but we can know that He will see us through and that He will never leave or forsake us.  No matter the result, no matter the apparent triumph of evil in the temporal realm, we are victorious in eternity.     


julie said...

Ah, what a contrast. I just came from Facebook, where a relative has posted an inspirational photo along with the reasons he's a liberal. Notably, this relative is also a minister; most recently Episcopal, naturally.

Anyway, the first reason listed is that Liberals "believe no one should go without food, shelter, medicine or an education." Followed closely, of course, by "I learn about my world through science..." And then of course a list of freedoms which in practice amount to, "for me, but not for people I disagree with."

Considering that, one would presume, he should have a closer acquaintance with the Bible than the average schmuck, it is awfully tempting to ask him where it says that people should expect that they'd never suffer lack of food, medicine, shelter, or education in the course of this life. That, in essence, everyone's basic needs ought to be met, and nobody should suffer any undue stress. Much less tribulation.


"God’s protection doesn’t always look much like protection from the world’s perspective. In fact, sometimes it looks as though God has abandoned or is in hiding from those who most earnestly seek Him."

The persecution of the Christians in the Middle East in recent days has been a true eye-opener in that regard. My Bible study class just started Moses, and in amongst the first round of questions are implications that if we just do what God wants, we'll be compensated somehow in this life. It irks me - not that I think God never gives, but that people should be expecting a kind of transactional relationship, where I do this and God gives that in return. That just isn't how it works herebelow. To suggest otherwise, especially in light of current events, just strikes a sour note with me.

Nevertheless, I do - with all of my heart - believe that the unimaginable suffering those Christians are enduring is neither meaningless, nor without a reward which I simply cannot fathom from within this life.

robinstarfish said...

"God sometimes cloaks Himself, coming to us in places and ways and guises such that we are apt to miss Him if we are not alert and aware."

Ah, that bears repeating. Every time I'm convinced He's in permanent hiding, He pops up in yet another incongruous situation.

mushroom said...

God bless the Episcopalians.

There's a fine line, and I often come down on the wrong side of it. The idea of process that Bob has talked about has really helped to get a better perspective.

Jesus more or less promised that some would be put to death for their faith. The blood of the martyrs is a powerful witness.

I'm even tempted to think that Muslim suicide bombers are a mockery (not quite the right word) of Christian martyrdom. They are saying to Christians, "You let us kill you for your faith. Ha, we kill ourselves!"

There will be something that comes out of all that suffering. Somehow it is moving things in the right direction.

mushroom said...

Yep, Robin, where I least expect Him sometimes.

Rick said...

There seems to be a necessary connection between love and suffering. When we suffer along with a suffering loved one it is a different kind and it transforms both people because of the love between them.
Also, suffering must not be meaningless if Jesus suffered on the cross. Reading MOTT letter Justice, UF discusses how Jesus suffers eternally on the cross. And will until hell is empty of souls. "Eternally" means, in this case, more akin to "completely" I think than "for all time."

Rick said...

In other words, suffering may be no less meaningful than love. The meaning is in itself and does not serve some other "end".

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

There can be a link if you will, between sufferin' and humor.
Sometimes, when the pain is really bad It's as if I feel the punchline and I laugh.
Sounds crazy and maybe it is, but it sure as hell beats cryin'.

It also helps me see humor more clearly. Not all the time, but when it tickles my funny jones it distracts me from the pain and I have a good laugh.

Funny how pain can focus us on humor, love, truth, and God hisSelf.

mushroom said...

Rick, eternally equally completely is exactly what George MacDonald would say, agreeing with UF. There are only so many words. They had to pick one.

Suffering for the love of God -- what else can we do?

mushroom said...

Not enough coffee that day

eternally equaling completely

Rick said...

Know what you mean completely :-)