The paradoxes of Christianity never cease to amaze me. Joy through suffering—what the hell is that? But it is profound and hope-generating since humanity’s ‘default mode’ is suffering and the goal of humans is to work its way out of it. But in spite of all its hard work, humanity’s suffering seems to only grow deeper. The elected powers do not care one whit about solving the human condition. Their pursuit of power is their very own way of solving their own. Consequently, the suffering of the world grows darker and darker by the hour.
Suffering was not something I had in mind when becoming a Christian because nobody becomes a Christian based on its theology of suffering. We are looking for deliverance from suffering and the gospel’s promise toward this end is great. But I was learning through my experiences that the gospel does not deliver you from all of your suffering. Instead, it delivers you from some of your suffering and turns other suffering into blessings.
I wrote in my book Strong that the fall of Adam should not be seen as something we need to strive to “get back up” from. That would only make life little more than a chore to be done. Rather, God, in his peculiar way of making good out of anything, has afforded us an opportunity to achieve a greatness that Adam never could.
All suffering is accounted for in some way or another. The concept I had to learn was that Christianity and its gospel was meant to be truly omnipotent. That is, its power was so great that it could promise to even make your sin serve to show the glory of God and his grace which he loves to pour out. The reign of Christianity’s power was not limited to some ‘delivered state’. Its power of good reigned everywhere and in everything no matter what. The Apostle Paul wrote something to the tune of this idea when he said, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? Of course not!”
Therefore under its power, you are no longer breaking rules and incurring the backhand of some divine deity. All things are lawful. All things are yours. The only thing that now governs you is wisdom. Under the tenants of Christianity the deity became your Father who was permanently on your side, teaching you patiently and never getting angry at or punishing you. At the same time he planned out times of affliction for you—to challenge you. Everyone under his training receives it in their own measure:
“Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but God delivers him out of them all.” (Psalm 34:19)
Pain and hurt are interesting phenomenon to humans. Maybe one of the least understood realities of our existence. We identify things as good or bad based on this phenomenon. The complaint I seem to hear the most about God is how does a good divine being ‘allow’ pain? The answer of Christianity however says that he never ‘allowed’ it. He created it. And the purpose was for our good. Science has gone far enough to learn that pain is in-depth communication from our bodies telling us a great deal about what is good and what is bad. Whether it is physical, emotional, or spiritual, pain always seems to point us in the direction of one thing: life. It warns us of death. It’s the basis of Christianity’s claim that affliction is one of the most loving things God can give to us:
In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:6-7)
I encountered a lot of Christians around the world living out this paradox. They were suffering and yet rejoicing. People suffering who were not Christians never rejoiced. Of course, while Christianity captures all of our pains, sufferings, and sins and weaves them into good, they are not things we try to think about or seek out. Nor do I believe that God would have us do so, although from my studies into Church history many Christians of ancient times seemed to do just that. Only God knows how and where we need pain. The benefit of him being our Father is that if he wants to challenge and refine us, he wants to heal us and bless us even more. According the New Testament, the Christian life is positioned permanently in a place of healing and blessing while at the same time embracing any ‘crosses’ that may come its way. It was also written that the Christian life was only realized by faith. Faith, of course, is not always easy to find.