Suffering - Age-Old Problem And Present Reality (30)Document Transcript
Suffering - Age-Old Problem And Present RealitySuffering is a very old phenomenon incontrovertibly affects everyone. Ever since Edens gates closedupon the heels of our former ancestors, Adam and Eve, man has been a sufferer. Fergusson aptlynoted that "the reality of suffering, especially that of the helpless or innocent, is a problem for anyonewho posits the existence of an omnipotent and benevolent Deity" (Fergusson 1988, 667). In otherwords, "there is suffering, evil, pain, grief, death and depression in the world. It touches everyoneslife at some point" (Simundson 1980, 13). My paternal grandmother has suffered tremendously,burying four of her seven children in the order in which they were born at the time when they werebreadwinners in the family. Child A, B, C and D (names withheld) respectively died at the ages of 27,25, 30 and 42 years in 1968, 1972, 1980 and 1997.THE INEVITABILITY OF SUFFERINGThe twentieth century has witnessed a volume of human misery and suffering of unprecedentedproportions. In the face of this enormity, "philosophers and theologians have continued to grapplewith the enigma of evil and suffering" (Atkinson and Field 1995, 824).It seems understandable when the guilty suffer but it is a mystery when the righteous is not alsoimmune. Paradoxically, "Abraham is tested, Joseph is afflicted, Moses is plagued, David ispersecuted, Job is harassed, Elijah is hated, Jeremiah is driven from home, Daniel is thrown to thelions, Stephen is stoned, Paul is imprisoned" (Berner 1973, 75-76). This frankness about sufferingdoes not only belong to the occasional works of the collection of writings that we call the Bible. It is tobe found not only in Job, Ecclesiastes, Jeremiah, Lamentations and many of the Psalms but ratherinforms the whole story. Realistically, "what is from one vantage point the history of Israelsprovidential deliverance from evil, oppression and extinction is, from another, the story of Israelscontinuous degradation of suffering" (Hall 1986, 32).An incontrovertible truth is that "suffering is real, and is the lot of humanity as we know it" (Hall 1986,75). In January 2002, President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah declared an end to the decade-long civil warthat had crippled Sierra Leone. The war, fuelled by a power struggle primarily between thegovernment and rebel forces led by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) over territory, conflictdiamonds and politics, brought a decade of attacks on civilians, which resulted in the dislocation ofover four million people who were forced either to flee to neighbouring countries or become internallydisplaced. The sufferings of Sierra Leoneans during the eleven-year rebel war (1991-2002) wereunimaginable. In addition to hunger and starvation, arms and limbs were amputated, and babies werestripped off the back of mothers and thrown into burning houses.The researcher has a friend (a committed Christian) who was raped by seven rebels. As Sierra Leoneemerges from the trauma of civil war, its people are now faced with the challenges left by a decade ofhuman rights abuses and the conflicts which plagued the region. During the past decade, SierraLeone witnessed several egregious violations of human rights, stemming from the war. Among themwere child abuse, violence against women, and arbitrary arrest, detention and execution, to name afew. The conflict in neigbouring Liberia used to affect the Sierra Leonean people. As Sierra Leone
struggles to recover from this decade of tragedy, one way the citizens are suffering is the lingeringeffects of the past.The sad reality is that wars, famines, diseases, natural disasters and ultimate death are never easy torationalize. Cancer, kidney failure, heart disease, sudden infant death syndrome, cerebral palsy,divorce, rape, loneliness, rejection, failure, barrenness, widowhood and countless other forms ofhuman suffering produce inevitable questions that are on the lips of both sinner and saint.Some of these include the following:1.If God made a perfect world, why is the righteous suffering?2.Does God want his people to suffer?3.If not, why did He allow it?4.If God is omnipotent, why cant He stop suffering?5.If God can stop it but does not, is He malevolent?6.How can a loving God stand by inactive?The above questions, always present in the minds of people in general and the researcher inparticular, challenged the latter to direct one to look for appropriate answers in the Bible.One can safely assert that "we live in an epicurean age where nobody wants to suffer" (Airiohuodion1996, 54). Consequently, "we often regard suffering as if its to be avoided at all costs, yet its oftenthe best display of a life transformed by Christ" (MacArthur 1991,12).There is another dimension to suffering. In Pauls day, when a man became a Christian, he knewwhat he was getting into. To choose Christ meant to choose trouble. Its still that way although manyChristians today dont seem to realize it. From about A.D. 100 with Emperor Nero until A.D. 12, "thechurch experienced ten periods of intense persecution at the hands of Roman emperors" (Horton1993, 11). These included Nero (A.D. 54-58), Domitian (A.D. 81-96), Trajan (A.D.98-117), MarcusAurelius (A.D. 161-180), Septimus Severus ((A.D. 193-211), Maximimunus (A.D. 235-238), Decius(A.D. 249-251), Valerian (A.D. 253-260), Aurelian (A.D. 270-275) and Diocletian (A.D. 284-305).Eusebius account could be realistically applied to nature of the suffering of the saints:We ourselves also beheld, when we were at these places, many all at once in a single day, some ofwhom suffered decapitation, others the punishment of fire; so that the murderous axe was dulled and,worn out, was broken in pieces, while the executioners themselves grew utterly weary and took it inturns to succeed one another (Frend 1984, 481).The attitude of the early martyrs is worth mentioning. Persuaded that neither death, nor life wouldseparate them from the love of God, these Christians obeyed the Word of God in spite of and notbecause of. Counting every opportunity to suffer as joyful, they were confident that God meant it fortheir good. Since they did not want Jesus to be ashamed of them in the last day, they were not afraidof man who can only kill the body. They were told that their lives would be spared if they would justreject the name of Christ. However, they were prepared to die one by one since they could notrenounce His name. At the very hour of death, these martyrs pledged allegiance to the lamb seekingto honour Him instead. This amazed Eusebius who completed his narrative with this inspiring tribute :Thus, as soon as sentence was given against the fire, some from one quarter and others from
another would leap up to the tribunal before the judge to confess themselves Christians; paying noheed when faced with terrors...but undismayedly and boldly speaking of the piety towards the God ofthe universe, and with joy... REceiving the final sentence of death; so that they sang and sent uphymns and thanksgiving to the God of the universe even to the very last breath (Frend 1984, 481).Christianity however became a tolerated religion in the time of Constantine. Indeed, "to Constantine,the best course was not to suppress Christianity" (Noll 1997, 51) but "restoring to the Christians theliberties they had possessed before the persecution" (Frend 1984, 475). This religious tolerationproduced several changes. Constantine ordered that Sunday was to be a public holiday similar toother pagan holidays. This made possible wider development in worship and larger congregations inthe churches. Realistically, greater leisure meant that Christian festivals tended to multiply. Thisunderscores the point that Christians generally do not want to suffer.Queen Elizabeth I could be compared to Constantine since she also did not follow the footsteps ofQueen Mary (alias bloody Mary). Although "the dreadful fires continued for a while longer in Spainand the countries within her grasp, with the ending of the reign of Queen Mary, the history of Englishmartyrdom was brought to a close" (Foxe 1989, 200).SUFFERING IN CONTEMPORARY TIMESThe researcher suspects that the relatively peaceful atmosphere in which Christians worship todaycould be a contributing factor to the fact that they are not willing to suffer. Everyone seems to claimthe sweet side of Christianity. The word sweet added to fellowship in the grace we normally andmeaninglessly recite therefore shows how the contemporary Church views suffering. The theology inthe church today is to that of prosperity. However, "... Between thus says the Lord and it came topass, there are several bridges to cross and several mountains to climb" (Madugba 2002, 50).In the introduction of his book titled Long life : your heritage, the writer observed that "this book setsout to show one thing: that long life is the heritage of the born again. It sets out to teach that thebeliever has a choice in the matter of his departure from his earthly tabernacle. The believer canclaim victory over death. It is one of his covenant rights. Even though it would be a bit farfetched todisagree with the above, the researcher suspects that the suffering-free or problem-free life can onlybe lived in heaven. Besides, "to claim that God wills our prosperity at all times may not always betrue" (Airiohuodion 1996, 60).The theology of suffering in the contemporary church is also reflected in song. Before the 1980s,choruses emphasized personal confession of faith in Christ and willingness to take up the cross tofollow Him. The fact that people dont want to suffer today is clearly reflected in the songs, slogansand posters advertising for breakthrough. A popular chorus in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria (threeWest African nations geographically apart) is "Mi a nor go sufa, a nor go beg for bread; God ofmirakul, na my Papa o". The English translation is "I will neither suffer nor beg for bread; my Father isthe God of miracle". This tendency to avoid suffering at all cost has led to the Prosperity Gospelwhich stresses faith in claiming blessings as they name them. At the risk of oversimplification anddistortion, this gospel teaches, among other things that:1.Every Christian is created to be materially and financially buoyant.
2.Christians who are in a state of prolonged financial predicament are ignorant of Gods design.3.For the manifestation of the reversal of breakthrough, the aspirant must demonstrate hisexpectancy by blessing the man of God first (Awoniyi 2004, 2).Christians are therefore encouraged not to accept suffering as their portion. Anyone who is sufferingis either living in sin or is not standing on the promises of God for his showers of blessing. Hallrealistically observes that "there is in fact a general distaste in both society and church forinterpretations of human suffering which make use of the idea of sin in a causative sense" (Hall 1986,75).PAULINE RESPONSEThe above misconception of the concept of suffering in the contemporary church seems to becontrary to II Corinthians 1:3-7.Paul gives the praise to the Father for His faithful provision of comfort (2 Cor. 1:3-5). This God isFather of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God who so loved the world that He sent His Son to save ratherthan judge the world. He is the God who, among other things, anointed our Lord Jesus Christ to bindup the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and comfort all that mourn. He is also theFather of mercies and God of all comfort. Mercy originates from Him and can only be secured fromHim. The words all comfort indicates that there are neither limitations nor deductions. Gods mercyresults in the comfort He shows.He comforts us in all tribulation and intends for believers who receive the comfort to extend thatcomfort to others. All indicates every single one - not one Ieft out. Although Paul was referring to aspecific set of Christians, by implication or extension, all readers of the epistle are included. It isperhaps easy to mention many beautiful things about God being the God of all comfort; however,unless one knows what it is to be truly comforted, it will be difficult to comfort others. God, thecomforter, is not far off in a distant heaven where Christians cannot find Him. It is realistic to state thatRick Warrens painful experiences could be one way God prepared him for ministry. A pastor, JohnRegier, who conducted a seminar in pastoral counseling at West Africa Theological Seminary, Lagos,Nigeria in August 2004 testified that he is now in a better position to comfort someone who isdepressed because he went through depression for twenty years and has received the comfort ofGod. God does not waste pain. He therefore comforts Christians for a purpose. Having received thecomfort of God, they are expected to be conduits of that received from God, not storehouses. Paul inverses three and four illustrates that the ability to praise God in the midst of suffering therefore couldonly come from an experience of the strengthening comfort of God.Interestingly, comfort is increased when sufferings are increased. The fifth verse provides the reasonwhy suffering equips the Christian to receive Gods comfort. Whenever Christs sufferings wereincreased in Pauls life, there was a corresponding increase in Gods comfort through the ministry ofChrist. This means that the greater the suffering, the greater the comfort and ones ability to thisdivine sympathy with others who are suffering. Perhaps it is a strange conjunction to juxtaposesuffering and comfort. Presumably this is more strange when they are put together in the relation ofcause and effect, and the latter emerges from the former as springs have been loosened by the
earthquake at Messina, as volcanic influences are productive of conditions that feed the mostluxurious vines. Realistically, the teaching that links suffering and comfort, the volcano and the vine,affliction and emancipation is preeminently significant of the Christian religion. One can only obtainthe wine of life through the crushing of the grapes. Affliction introduces one to the juices and manna.Christ is the leader and sublime Example of suffering. Christians are not expected to always havevery easy lives since Jesus Himself knew titanic suffering. It is possible to evade a multitude ofsorrows by the cultivation of an insignificant life. However, when one wants to fulfill Christs purpose,sufferings will then be increased.The central idea in verses six and seven (part of which is in the fourth verse) deals with suffering andthe Christian community. Paul, after experiencing an overflow of Christs suffering, knows thestrengthening of His comfort. Experiencing suffering itself is the basis for assisting others. Suffering istherefore not necessarily an accident. God designs the affliction of spiritual leaders to minister to theaffliction of the flock. The welfare of the Corinthians would be promoted by the example of theapostles in their own trials and the resulting consolations they would be able to pass on as aconsequence of their afflictions. Christians shall therefore rejoice together if they suffer together.A clear understanding of the Pauline concept of suffering as contained in the passage examined, (IICorinthians I:3-7) and an examination of the contemporary trend reveals that Pauls idea is unpopular.This unpopularity is seen in the various interpretations given to suffering by Christians today.RECOMMENDATIONSAlthough the church has responded to the suffering of the people in Sierra Leone, there is more to bedone. Programmes on forgiveness and reconciliation should be on-going rather than one-sided. Withthe message of Paul at the background, Christians who suffered in different ways must beinstrumental in assisting those who are suffering since they have been comforted to comfort. Thesacrificial duty of the church, its suffering, should become a work of love and redemption. Even beforecomforting those who are suffering, the inescapable nature of suffering must be realized. Bhikshu isquoted of saying that.To be born is to suffer; to grow old is to suffer; to die is to suffer; to loose what is loved is to suffer; tobe tied to what is not loved is to suffer; to endure what is distasteful is to suffer. In short, all the resultsof individuality, of separate self-hood, necessarily involve pain or suffering (Bradley 1969, 699).Consequently, the church must be thankful to God like Paul in the passage studied, praising God inspite of and not necessarily because of since suffering is inevitable. If the Church lives and movesand have its being in Jesus, then it must be ready to suffer.The issue of shared comfort is very crucial to the churchs understanding of Pauls thought andmotivation not only in the passage reviewed but the entire letter of II Corinthians. Jesus ought to bethe medium of comfort and suffering as Paul suggests in II Corinthians 1:5. As Christians identify withChrist, they must be prepared to suffer with Him.Although the church should not go about witch-hunting or searching for suffering, it must beregarded as part of the divine appointment when it comes. This is important even in James 1:2-4where trials and testing are used. Fellowship should be seen as a vital relationship between
Christians. They will rejoice together since they also suffer together. Paul made the Corinthiansunderstand this mutuality of suffering and comfort.REFERENCE LISTAiriohuodion, Samuel. 1996. The Righteous and Suffering. B.A. Dissertation, West Africa TheologicalSeminary.Atkinson, D.J. And D.H. Field. 1995. New Dictionary of Christian Ethics and Pastoral theology.Downers Grove, Illinois : Intervarsity Press.Awoniyi, H.O. 2003. Curriculum Response as Antidote to the Prosperity Gospel: a Proposal. Paperpresented at the Intellectual Forum of West Africa Theological Seminary, Lagos, Nigeria on February5, 2004.Berner, Carl W. 1973. Why me, Lord? : Meaning and Comfort in Times of Trouble. Minneapolis,Minnesota : Augsburg Publishing House.Bradley, J.P, L.F. Daniels & T.C. Jones. 1969. The International Dictionary of Thoughts : anEncyclopaedia of Quotations from Every Age for Every Occasion. Chicago : Fergusson PublishingCo.Fergusson, S.B., Wright D.F., Palmer J. I. 1988. New Dictionary of Theology. Leicester : IntervarsityPress.Foxe, John. 1989. Christian Martyrs of the World. Uhrichville, Ohio: Barbour and Co., Inc.Frend, W.H.C. 1984. The Rise of Christianity. Philadelphia : Fortress Press.Hall, Douglas John. 1986. God and Human Suffering. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House.MacArthur, John. 1991. Through Suffering to Trial. Chicago : Moody Press.Madugba, Chinyere G. 2002. Brokenness : an Inevitable Experience for Spiritual Significance. PortHarcourt : Spiritual Life Outreach Publications.Noll, Mark. 1997. Turning Points:Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity. Grand Rapids,Michigan: Baker Books.Simundson, Daniel J. 1980. Faith Under Fire. Minneapolis : Augsburg Publishing.Luxury bedding collections