by Aaron Griffith
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“Our Hope Endures, the worst of conditions.
It’s more than our Optimism.
Let the Earth quake.
Our Hope is Unchanged.” – Natalie Grant, “Our Hope Endures”
Honestly, it’s hard to understand. It’s even harder to endure.
This state, existing within a realm of pain and anguish that is so often accompanied by the weight of depression. I guess it isn’t that hard to understand or explain looking in from the outside, but until you’ve entered into the suffering of someone who has lost a child or whose body has been racked with some gruesome and incurable disease, or has had their world stolen and destroyed by haunting memories of violence, you have not truly tasted of this thing we call suffering. Something is taken from you, something dear to you, and there is no explanation to speak reason into existence. You are left with pain, pure and sharp, and the grueling task of surviving.
But what about us? Those of us who have placed our Trust in this one named Jesus? We, who have believed, who have died to ourselves, so that He may live through us? We who have chosen to “lean not on our own understanding”, but rather on “the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen”?
If God is Love, then what is this??
Since that day, five years ago, when I decided that Christ is who He says He is, I have struggled with these same sorts of questions. After years of struggling through heartache, loss, homelessness, hunger, death, rejection, pain, and loneliness, and wrestling with these same difficult questions, I can tell you this, there is still very little that I am absolutely sure about. But, with each new hurt, each new wound, each ounce of suffering I am afforded, I grow closer to grasping the beauty and mystery behind this thing we call suffering.
There is a deep and ancient Truth hidden behind this. One that is deeper than most followers of Christ will ever go this side of Eternity.
Romans 5:1) Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2) through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3) Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4) perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5) And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
This is a magnificent piece of scripture.
When we are Justified through our faith in Jesus, when we receive the gift of Jesus, Crucified in our place, we gain access, by that faith, to the Grace of God. For that, we rejoice in our Hope of the Glory of God. For most Christians this is where we stop reading, but we should read on, for the next part of this selection reveals a Truth that, if applied to your life, will deepen your Faith exponentially and change your world.
We are also told to rejoice in our suffering!? What? How? How can you rejoice after hearing words like these…
“I’m sorry, but the baby is stuck in your fallopian tube and the tube has ruptured, we must remove it and the pregnancy to save your life.”
Or, “We tried everything we could, but we couldn’t save your son.”
Or, “The tests we’ve run show you have a mass growing in your neck, it looks like it has spread throughout your body, we need to talk about your options.”
Or, “I want a divorce.”
What is there to rejoice about?
Here is where one of the most famous questions within humanity comes in. “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Or the Christian version, “If God is Good, why does He allow bad things to happen to those He says He Loves?”
The better question is, “Why shouldn’t we suffer?”
The answer, if there is one, is not easy. What I am learning is, Following Christ, is not about my comfort, it’s about my worship. So many times we Christians get trapped into the mindset that God exists to serve us. He becomes some sort of Candy man or vending machine in the sky just waiting for us to ask for a new car or a better job or whatever we think we deserve for being such good people. We think the creator of the Universe, and everything within it, is waiting on the Throne of Glory to grant our hearts desires.
It sounds good, and definitely American, but God doesn’t exist to serve us.
We exist to Glorify God.
While we spend our lives chasing this American "Dream", filling our lives with all of the things that we think will make us happy while making our existence about satisfying our every whim and desire, God is concerned with something altogether different. When these two separate and sometimes opposite paths intersect, and things don’t go the way we want them to, we usually become angry with God and accuse Him of being unfair or something along those lines. There seems to be a breakdown in communication somewhere and you can bet the breakdown isn’t on God’s side.
The Bible, God’s great Love letter to us, says a lot of things about our relationship with God, most of them very intriguing. The great message of the Gospel is not that as followers of Jesus we will be exempt from suffering and live in comfort and plenty, but rather, we will be persecuted and attacked for our beliefs and when tribulation comes, God will not leave us. Our Hope Endures! He will give us extraordinary, almost super-human strength to endure even the harshest of conditions, and in those situations He will draw near to us and provide us with the substance we need to stand firm when everything else falls away. In those times of tribulation we gain perseverance and as we persevere our character deepens and with character comes hope, and our Hope in Christ does not disappoint us. This is of course Romans 5:3-4 from above.
Suffering produces Hope. Without experiencing suffering we never learn to persevere. Without ever persevering through a difficult time, our character as a Christian never matures and deepens and without a depth of character we will never obtain a Hope in Christ that can not be shaken. Basically, we need suffering. It is an intimate part of being a follower of Jesus. Look at the end of the Gospel of John…
John 21:15 - When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?"
"Yes, Lord," he said, "you know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Feed my lambs."
16Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me?"
He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep."
17 The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?"
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Feed my sheep. 18 I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." 19Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, "Follow me!"
This is such an amazing passage to me. This takes place after Jesus has been resurrected and has appeared to a group of his followers who have gone back to their previous job which happened to be fishing. Something extraordinary happens here between Jesus and Simon who Jesus called Peter, which means “Rock”. Earlier Peter had denied he even knew Jesus three times as Jesus was being tortured, to escape a similar fate at the hands of the mob. Now Jesus asks Peter if he loves him three times. After which He commands Peter to feed, and take care of His sheep. You see Jesus had a huge job for Peter to do, something He had been grooming him for over their three years in ministry together. Peter would lead the first Christian church and raise it from infancy. This had to be an extraordinary moment, eating breakfast prepared by the Risen Jesus on the banks of the sea. But something else happens, something, at least to me, that is very unexpected and strange. After this profound and most likely very emotional exchange in which Jesus allowed Peter to confess his love for Him three times, one for each of his earlier denials, Jesus tells Peter how he will die. Not only that he will die, but that he will share the same fate that Jesus had suffered, crucifixion. Peter would in fact be crucified some years later, though he chose to be hung upside down signifying his unworthiness to be killed the same way his Lord was.
What is most interesting is how this mirrors our own lives with Christ. Every one of us who responds to Christ by placing our Hope in Him is asked the same question Peter was, “Do you Love me?” When our answer to Him is a sincere “Yes Lord, you know that I love you.” We are commanded the same thing Peter was, “Feed my Sheep...Follow Me.” Accepting that command, as Peter well knew then, means accepting the suffering that comes along with it. Peter did, in fact, follow Jesus to the cross that he would eventually be nailed to, and we are called to do the same. In doing so, we are to worship the One who has given us life and life more abundantly, by rejoicing at His work in our lives in both joy and suffering.
For in joy we see clearly the width of God’s Love for us.
In suffering we discover its depth.
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