Monday, March 17, 2014

Why We Suffer

Are you human?  If the answer is no, how in the world are you reading this?  If you answer yes, then the reality of life is that at some point you are going to hurt, suffer, weep.  And you may be doing so currently.  But why do we suffer?

Sometimes the answer we lean on is that the world is simply cruel and indifferent.  But if we believe in God, we struggle with the whole concept of suffering.  Why me?  Why this?  Why now?  Why God, why??!!

For a broader picture on suffering it is helpful to study the history of God's chosen people, the Jews.  Outside of some brief moments of peace and prosperity they have had a whole lot of suffering.  At the end of the monarchial period the entire nation of Israel is destroyed, uprooted, and marched off into captivity.  After a number of generations pass, they are finally given the freedom to return home and rebuild, but only as a Vassal state.

The book of Malachi, the last book before the New Testament, challenges me to have a whole new view on the root of my suffering and despair.  It starts off with this accusatory tone, "Don't you really love us God?!?!"  They are just completely indignant.  Why have all these bad things happened to us?  Why are we so sad and in so much pain?  Our suffering is a clear indication that you aren't keeping up your end of the bargain!! 

God responds quite simply.  He says, I love you, don't doubt it!  But before you get all self-righteous about things, lets talk about what YOU have been up to. 

Being a parent is a frustrating job in a lot of ways.  Especially when your perfect little angel begins to accuse you of being a "bully" and a "stupid unfair baby".  Which I have been hearing a lot lately.  Why do I hear these things?  Have I been a bully and an unfair stupid baby?  No, no I have not. 

My 4 year old son does not like getting in trouble.  He absolutely detests it.  Even when he admits to his bad behavior.  Like any loving older brother, he shows his love to his 2 year old sister by; Not sharing, pushing, hitting, yelling at, etc.  All of which are unacceptable behaviors.  There is this very odd logic he employs in his self-righteousness.  His sister picked up a toy that he was not using....but happened to be "his"....and he went and took it away from her.  I proceeded to request he give it back, or get in trouble.  His response?  "You are a bully, you are being unfair!!!!"  When this continued, he was sent to his room without any toys.  Which led to more accusations of my unfair meanness. 

He accepts that what he is doing is not appropriate, but then he disconnects from his behavior when he addresses my actions(his consequences).  It is as if they are two completely unrelated events.  He wants to behave however he wants to behave, and he wants me to behave however HE wants me to behave.  And when I don't, I am the bad guy.

This is the story of Israel that God gently lays out in the book of Malachi.  Of course I love you.  But look at your obscene behavior.  Over and over again you sin and break the covenant.  But in the very middle of all of this the most important point of all is made.

Malachi 2:4
And you will know that I have sent you this warning so that my covenant with Levi may continue,” says the Lord Almighty.

At the heart of God's love and Israel's consequences is this essential truth.  Consequences exist to fix the relationship!  Why have you suffered Israel, why has God allowed it and will continue to allow it?  Because His ultimate heart is to restore the intimacy between Himself and His people. 

Why do I punish my son and give him consequences?  BECAUSE I love him.  If he grows up to be a disobedient, sister hitting, rule breaking, bad attitude adult, he and I will have, at best, a strained relationship.  My love for him is the driving force for my willingness to give him a bit of suffering.  A taste of suffering(time outs, lost privileges, a spanking or two(or 100)) now is how we eliminate greater suffering later. 

So why do you suffer?

I can't speak to every nuance of every situation that you deal with, but lets walk through a basic perspective.

God loves you.  Everything that can and does happen in your life is driven by the fact that He loves you, and that His greatest desire is not for your temporary "comfort" level, but the restoration and building of intimacy between you and Him.  If we don't start here, nothing else that follows will make sense.

The primary sources of suffering in our life are generally self-caused.  Specifically, we sin.  Not only does sin carry with it natural consequences(driving drunk could kill you and others, or, get you put in jail), but it also has spiritual consequences.  The sense of peace and blessing we experience in the context of a healthy relationship with God can, and often will be, removed. 

To make sense of "spiritual" consequences lets compare it to marriage.  If you say something mean to your spouse, they probably aren't going to leave you, but if you have ever felt the cold sting of rejection and anger you know what I am talking about.  It is an uneasy place to be when you know your spouse is frustrated with you.  That is a simple way of thinking about spiritual consequences.

God loves us so much that He will let us flounder around in these consequences of our behavior.  Not because He just loves punishing us.  But because He loves US! 

If you are suffering and hurting, you have to be honest with yourself.  Are there sins and issues in your life that you aren't dealing with?  Even if you think they are private and secret.  God loves you so much that He will let you hurt until you accept that it is time to heal.

God loves you so much, His heart is not for you to suffer.  But He loves you enough to LET you suffer so that you can come to the one place where suffering can cease. 


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