October 22, 2013

Introducing the Why

I have a good friend—I’ll call him Carlos—who was recently baptized into the Seventh-day Adventist Church. This was one of those wonderful conversion success stories: A few months after Carlos was baptized, his wife began attending an evangelistic series at our church, and his kids enrolled in the local academy for the upcoming school year. This family’s overnight redemption reminded me of the jailer in Philippi whose entire house was baptized after the apostle Paul’s earthquake-aided release from prison (Acts 16).

God was hard at work in Carlos’ home, but of course, so was Satan.

A few weeks ago Carlos walked into Sabbath school alone. His wife, baptized after the series, had just told him that she was tired of faking her spirituality. It was a shocking blow for someone who had given everything in his life to the Lord.

“I’m not sure what to do,” he said blankly.

What was I supposed to say?

Around the same time, I was watching a film on the life of Jesus with my 15-year-old niece, Tabitha. Toward the end of the production the narrator mentioned that all of Jesus’ disciples, except John the revelator, were martyred for their faith in the first century.

“Uncle Jimmy,” she asked, “why would Jesus allow His friends to be killed like that?”

Once again, I found myself at a loss for words.

Two Kinds of Suffering

If you’ve been in the church long enough, you undoubtedly know someone who was scared off by a well-intentioned but mishandled diatribe on end-time suffering. Clearly the consequences of sin is death, i.e., suffering. As humans born with a sinful nature, living in a sinful world, we each will come face to face with heartache and pain. That’s a promise Jesus Himself made when He told the disciples that “in this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33).

Sometimes it seems like a no-win situation. If you mess up, you suffer. Raise your hand if you’ve had to deal with intense guilt, a broken relationship, or another unplanned consequence resulting from a mistake you made. On the other hand, have you ever done everything right, only to suffer persecution and condemnation at the hands of someone else? If you’re anything like me, your answers are “Yes” and “Yes.”

However, such a mind-set is overly simplistic. True, although suffering in any form hurts, all suffering is not created equal, as explained by the apostle Peter: “But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened. . . . For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil” (1 Peter 3:14-17).

In our discourse on suffering, we must constantly present the picture through the eyes of heaven. Jesus didn’t isolate His disciples from persecution, because He knew that by following in His footsteps it was almost inevitable that their lives would end at the hands of men, as did His. But by following the path He blazed on earth, the disciples were also guaranteed to spend eternity with their Master, fulfilling Jesus’ promise “that you also may be where I am” (John 14:3).

Unfortunately, in this life we don’t have a choice that precludes suffering one way or another; it’s going to happen. But you and I do have a say when it comes to why we suffer.

Choose to suffer with a clear conscience, for doing what we know to be right. In John 16:33 Jesus intrinsically ties earthly suffering to an eternal reward. Anxiety and fear will melt away when we focus on the big picture: Righteous suffering for a short time on earth means living where pain and suffering will be wiped out forever.

Thinking about spending eternity with Jesus: that really puts me at a loss for words.