A Theology of Suffering

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Eddie has written an excellent post about how our understanding of God must include the knowledge that he will use difficult situations in our lives to bring glory to himself. There will be times when he miraculously heals and provides for us, but there will also be (probably many more) times when he does immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine… by allowing us to suffer for his sake.

As a Bible Translator, I’d have loved it if a miracle had put the whole of the New Testament into Kouya with a single word of power. It would have saved a lot of work, isolation, tiredness, malaria and sheer intellectual effort. But God didn’t do that; nevertheless, the example of a plainly fallible English couple who were prepared to sacrifice themselves had an impact on at least one young man who is now in a major leadership role in his country. Oh, and the New Testament was translated and is being read. No signs, wonders or miracles – sometimes more or less the opposite – but God’s Kingdom was being revealed!

What do the Scriptures have to say about this? Yes, in Jesus ministry miracles are very definitely shown as signs of the Kingdom – John even uses the word sign to describe them. I’m not knocking miracles. But look at these two sections taken from Hebrews 11.

13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.

They were living by faith, but they hadn’t received the things that God had promised them. The sort of theology of faith which tells you that if you believe enough God will give you exactly what you want just can’t stand in the light of a verse like this – much less in the burning intensity of the whole Scriptural witness to God’s people being called again and again to suffer. read more

There are times when God will bring glory to himself through miracles. But there are also times when he will do it through the miracle of an obedient and faithful heart in the face of suffering.

To go back to Eddie’s first example, God could have just translated the whole Bible for the Kouya immediately, and everyone would have been amazed and could sit back and relax. But how much more could the Kouya people learn from the faithful witness and dedication even in difficult times of Eddie and Sue and others who followed God’s leading? If he had done it miraculously we would be talking about a God who does our difficult work for us, but instead we see another side of God’s character – that he chooses to involve us in his work despite our failings, and gives us grace each day to live for him. Surely it’s the miracle of “Christ in us, the hope of glory”, that has the eternal impact in building God’s kingdom among the people around us.

I was going to say a lot more, but keep finding that Eddie has already pretty much said it, so I’ll stop and just link to his post

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