I have recently finished reading the New Testament and I am collecting my thoughts about what I read in this series of posts. Today I am writing about what the New Testament says about Suffering. Other entries in this series:
- The Apocalypse
- Binary Thinking
- the Afterlife and Free Will
The vast majority of the time when the New Testament mentions suffering, it talks about it as if it is a good thing. Romans 8:17, Colossians 1:24, 2 Timothy 1:8, 2 Timothy 2:3, and Hebrews 2:9-10 all praise suffering, it is a good thing that brings us closer to Jesus. Hebrews 5:8 adds that through suffering we learn obedience, which I suppose is true, if someone was causing me to suffer I would obey them to prevent further suffering. 1 Peter 4:1,13 adds that if you have suffered then you have ceased from sin. The big problem here is that suffering itself is being glorified, instead of the cause or the result of that suffering.
|Sometimes God sounds like Maddox|
What naturally comes next? If suffering itself is good, then the rational thing to do would be to go out and seek out some suffering. To be happy when it comes your way. The New Testament even pushes us in the direction by supporting a persecution complex. Galatians 4:29, 2 Timothy 3:12, and 1 John 3:13 all tell Christians that they should be expected to be persecuted, the world hates them for being Christians. But it actually goes farther than that, Luke 6:22 and 2 Corinthians 12:10 take things a step farther and tell Christians to rejoice in being persecuted, and why not, the message we see is that a good Christian should be persecuted, an easy message to get here is that if you are not being persecuted then your faith is lacking. I think we can see the effects of this in America, Christians yell persecution at the drop of a hat. It's gotten to the point that they call it persecution when we stop try to stop them from discriminating other people. Obvious examples of this are gay marriage and contraception (they can make these rules all they want, but when they try to control what non-Christians do then we have a problem).
The issue I have with the above verses about suffering is that they praise the suffering itself. The message that comes from those verses is that suffering is good, you should suffer and be happy about suffering. That message is crap, but there are actually a few verses that advocate suffering that I agree with. 1 Peter 3:17 and Acts 21:13 say that you should be willing to risk suffering and even death for your principles. It obviously is highly dependent on the specific circumstances, but it is a great thing to risk personal safety for something you really believe in. Just think of a soldier in the military, or perhaps a fireman, they are risking bodily harm and death for a good cause, they are rightly praised. But we aren't praising them for their suffering, we are praising them for being willing to deal with some suffering for a good cause. I could just out of a third story window and break my legs and experience a great deal of suffering, you wouldn't praise me for it, you'd probably call me an idiot. It's not the suffering that is important, it's the reason for the suffering.
Of course, not all suffering is a result of a standing up for good cause or stupidity. Sometimes we just wind up suffering as a result of an accident or maybe we catch a disease. It can be easy to think that we are alone, that we are the only one having to deal with our unique situation (whoa, flashback to high school). It is nice to know that other people are dealing with similar situations, and many people have done so in the past and got through it just fine. 1 Peter 5:9 tells us exactly this, there are other people dealing with the same kinds of suffering throughout the world. It's nice to see a little bit of good advice coming out of the bible, even though, as usual, it seems that the good is heavily outweighed by the bad.