Finding Joy in Suffering

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

  • Romans 5:1-5

Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!
Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

  • James 5:7-11

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And,
“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
    what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”
So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

  • 1 Peter 4:12-19

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,

  • James 1:2

“The Spanish philosopher, novelist, and poet, Miguel de Unamuno, is perhaps best known for his book The Tragic Sense of Life (1913). ln this he writes that all consciousness is consciousness of death (we are painfully aware of our lack of immortality) and of suffering. What makes us human is the fact that we suffer.
“At first glance, it may seem as if this idea is close to that of Sidhartha Gautama, the Buddha, who also said that suffering is an inescapable part of all human life. But Unamuno’s response to suffering is very different. Unlike the Buddha, Unamuno does not see suffering as a problem to be overcome through practicing detachment. Instead he argues that suffering is an essential part of what it means to exist as a human being, and a vital experience.
“If all consciousness amounts to consciousness of human mortality and suffering, as Unamuno claims, and if consciousness is what makes us distinctively human, then the only way we can lend our lives a kind of weight and substance is to embrace this suffering. If we turn away from it, we are not only turning away from what makes us human, we are also turning away from consciousness itself.
“There is also an ethical dimension to Unamuno’s ideas on suffering. He claims that it is essential to acknowledge our pain, because it is only when we face the fact of our own suffering that we become capable of truly loving other suffering beings. This presents us with a stark choice. On the one hand, we can choose happiness and do our best to turn away from suffering. On the other hand, we can choose suffering and love. The first choice may be easier, but it is a choice that ultimately limits us – indeed, severs us from an essential part of ourselves. The second choice is more difficult, but it is one that opens the way to the possibility of a life of depth and significance.”

  • Sam Atkinson (senior editor), The Philosophy Book, Big Ideas Simply Explained

Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936) was onto something here.  But as a warning, he is not speaking of Christian suffering.

I wrote quite some time ago about how my mother claimed that when she woke up in the morning and felt pain, she knew that she was alive.  My mother might complain about her pain, but not all of it.  She was rather stoic in that regard, but I think she found the pain comforting.

I do not think that is what Unamuno meant, however.  Dogs, cats, and alligators can sense pain, but due to the human consciousness, humans suffer as a result while the other animals simply endure the pain.  C. S. Lewis wrote in The Screwtape Letters, Men are not angered by mere misfortune but by misfortune conceived as injury. And the sense of injury depends on the feelings that a legitimate claim has been denied.”  If we relate that statement of mere misfortune to having a pain, then that is where suffering comes from in that the pain was unnecessary, a result of physical injury, a possible result of injustice, and with us having consciousness, we look toward the future when the pain is relieved.  In other words, we suffer.

Yet, all humans experience that.  What of Christians?

When I was teaching the Video College of Biblical Knowledge, my Sunday school class that consisted of a 30-minute video and then another thirty minutes of discussion, we were watching a video of one of the synoptic Gospels, about 20 minutes of a movie and 40 minutes of discussion.  Probably Matthew, but Mark and Luke have this teaching of Jesus.  Jesus told His disciples to take up their cross and follow Him.  I asked the class, “What is taking up your cross mean to you?”  If you are not aware, this was a mistake, but I learned a lot.

After dead silence for about thirty seconds, one lady started crying and telling the class that when her mother died of cancer, that was hard.

Then another lady told of constant back pain, and Jesus’ back probably hurt when He carried the cross.

For the 30-40 minutes of discussion, it became a whine fest.  No Chardonnay nor Merlot nor Pinot Grigio.  Actually, my favorite is Riesling.  Whine, not wine.  At least no one complained about having a hangnail.  They talked of legitimate pain.  But…  Nothing, absolutely nothing with which the class suggested was unique to a Christian.  All the suffering was what everyone on earth faced.  In the Unamuno definition, they had proven that they were human, but Jesus meant something more than that.

Bearing a cross is suffering for righteousness’ sake.  Have you been passed over for a promotion because the other guy was edgy, and management thought the employees would take advantage of your kind nature?  If I have, and it is possible, they used other excuses.  But standing on the sidelines, I saw them do that to a friend of mine.  The other guy was not just edgy, he was crude, vulgar, and, as Spike Jones joked, he had an even temper – always mad.

Did the bully always pick on you because the bully knew you were taught to turn the other cheek?

I have worked in organizations where doing the Christian thing was what the company thought of as losing profit on the job.  They wanted the Christian because Christians worked hard with a smile on their faces and did not complain, but they would never trust the Christian as the supervisor or project manager.  They needed the guys with little to no conscience for those jobs.

But there are places in this world where you could be put to death if you openly admitted to being a Christian.  Just think of it; the first Christian martyr, Stephen, was killed by his cousins.  Note that at this time, the Way, what is now Christianity, was a sect within Judaism that really was not organized as a sect.  They just believed Jesus was the Messiah who the Old Testament prophets prophesied about.  Basically, the Jews killed Stephen, one of their own, because they did not think Jesus was the Messiah.

We do not have to be Stephen to carry our cross but getting a hangnail and thus understanding pain is not carrying your cross.

But if Unamuno considered that we should all be joyful regarding suffering because it proved our humanity, should Christians not consider it Joy when we suffer for righteousness’ sake?  It means that people are noticing Jesus Christ within you.

If you like these Tuesday morning essays about philosophy and other “heavy topics,” but you think you missed a few, you can use this LINK. I have set up a page off the home page for links to these Tuesday morning posts. I will continue to modify the page as I add more.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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