SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 28, 2010
SUFFERING A DIVINE NECESSITY I
TEXT: 2 Tim 4V5: “As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry”.
Christianity that is devoid of suffering is no Christianity at all. It is true some gospel charlatans say “Come to our church, all your troubles, sicknesses, pains will vanish”. They may overtime have succeeded in getting large flowing congregations (ofcourse to fatten their bank accounts) but the truth remains, their own soft type of Christianity is far from them being that of our Lord and Master Jesus who taught that suffering was a divine necessity. In Mark 8V31, it says: “He then began to teach that the son of man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, Chief Priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again”. There is then the need to draw the attention of church men and women today that Christianity will involve suffering in order not for them to equate loose living with Christian living.
From the Old Testament times, suffering was recognized as part of human existence. The predominant view then was that sin cause suffering. The biblical writers did not demarcate between physical and mental suffering; since man was seen in his totality. The biblical writers were not interested in the origin of suffering but rather inquired into the reason and purpose of suffering.
In the earliest stage of their faith; and in agreement with other Semitic religions, the Israelites interpreted suffering as a divine punishment for sin. In agreement with their belief in collective life; the members of the nation might suffer for the wickedness of their king or the descendants for the sins of their parents, read: I Sam 22V18; 2 Kings 21V10, 11.
However, the disturbing question then was; why must the righteous suffer at all? God’s messengers the prophets suffered; even worse than other people, Jer. 8V18-21, Psalm 44V23.
The Israelites at a point became impatient, why God’s thunderbolt did not fall immediately upon the wicked who prospered. Under this hard condition, the Israelites were encouraged to look forward to the “Day of Yahweh”. On that day, all human injustices would be straightened out. It is noteworthy that with all their experience of terrible suffering; the Israelites were never moved to take a pessimistic view of life. Since God is Lord, even Ecclesiastics the gloomiest of the Old Testament writers counseled his readers to endure and enjoy life: Eccl 1V2-11, 9V7-10.
No matter how gloomy, those who endure will see a flicker of light at the end of a tunnel. We need to hope in God.
In the New Testament period therefore; primitive church adopted all the Old Testament views of suffering. But later modified them in the light of Jesus’ passion and the cross. Jesus took upon him the burden of humanity. Thus, in accepting the necessity of his suffering; Jesus did not act under a compulsion placed upon him, but rather accepted it with the spontaneity of love.
We can at this juncture appreciate the admonitions of Paul to young Timothy. Our brother Paul at this time was aware that his life was drawing to a close; he urgently draw the attention of his son Timothy. He calls him son not that he was his earthly father; but because he was his spiritual father in the Christian race. “He urged Timothy”… to be steady with the gospel, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry”.
In asking Timothy to endure; he was invariably letting him know that the road to Christian living was not an easy one. There is nothing like “a soft or simple Christianity”. But ahead lies suffering which ought to be endured.
Paul in giving this type of admonition to Timothy was talking from personal experience. Ever since his conversion he had suffered; given his money, his scholarship, his time, the rigour of his body; suffering share, being flogged and imprisoned. Read about the boasting of Paul’s suffering in 2 Cor. 11V18-33.
To Paul therefore, Christianity will cost us something and the Christian is to pay the price of it without grumbling or regret. Even if our practice of Christianity involves bodily harm, we are to remain resolute. Indeed we are to endure all because of Christ. The scripture says of our Jesus: “He had no sin and yet it pleased the father to punish him, if mankind must be saved”.
To a Christian then, suffering is not to be feared but to be accepted as it is part of human existence. Have we experienced any suffering wherever we are? How did we welcome it? Did we look for a simple way out? Did we endure because of Christ?
To be concluded.
Ven. Barr. Ernest Onuoha
Rector, Ibru International Ecumenical Centre,