Updated: Jul 11, 2020
Unless you have been living under a rock for the last several months, you must have noticed some changes in our culture. In fact, it seems to be changing more quickly than we can comprehend. Institutions, in a single moment, are declared just that-- institutions, and banished to the trash heap of what was once called history. Known now as The Patriarchy.
As a Christian, a pastor, and a family man, I have wrestled to understand what I am seeing around me. I am fully aware that my brothers and sisters of color are proclaiming their pain and mourning their sense of suffering. Yet, I also wonder why their sense of suffering is any different than mine. Better yet, why does theirs override mine?
I understand a cloaked sentiment in that last question. How can one be jealous of another's perceived sense of suffering? My point in asking that question is not to proclaim that one is greater than the other. Rather, the point is that we all suffer. Suffering is a promised reality. How we respond to it is what defines us?
C.S. Lewis said something interesting in his book The Problem of Pain. Concerning suffering Lewis wrote:
We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world
I agree with the premise of Lewis. Oftentimes, the notion of pleasure plays greatly into the way in which we interpret our suffering. Yet, it also plays into our understanding of it’s solution.
I am convinced that our sinful heart will pursue pleasure at all cost. Presuming its ability to numb the reality of life. However, in obtaining all the pleasure in the world, there is still whispering. What we do with that will say much about our world views and more about our souls.
As we have watched people march in our streets, seen others refuse to wear masks in the grocery store, or watched media figures lie about both-- it is key that we assess the reality of suffering. In the context of our current moment, that assessment must be done in light of the individualistic nature of our society and the privileged rights we all share.
Privilege is the word that we hear so often. Yet, I have to ask; what meaning is in a word? How does one begin to understand the reality of meaning in light of perception? Orwell’s Newspeak Dictionary is an encapsulation of this question. Morso, it is a prescribed eventuality of a culture in which perception is reality.
In a world in which perception predicates reality, we will end up with no language at all. Instead, there will only be one common language of achievement to the end goal of self glorification, ascribe to/and by whatever or whoever we are worshiping in that particular moment. We will build towers and claim it as the end all of a new social capital. Found in the reality of the gods we worship.
Is that not what we see in the Babel account? That suffering but spiritless people will elevate the individual to the seat of all reason. Yet, in claiming wisdom, the whisper of relationship will call us back to one another, only to find a more tribal and violent reality. Smiles will be met with fists. Songs will be confronted with chants. Words will be met with confusion. Children will be greeted with gnashed teeth.
Thus it will be in the new embodiment of the age old state of natural depravity. Depravity that will end in the worship of self. The self, in fact is the very thing that lies at the heart of idolatry. It is not wood, gold, or silver that we worship. We worship the images of god we make in our hearts. That is the key to understanding suffering.
How can I say such a thing? I can say it because we are currently seeing the idolatry of self destroy the world around us. Furthermore, we can assess that this is the eventuality realized of a world that hears not the whispers of God, but is confronted with a fallen and sinful world. Most notably rampant suffering.
The definition of insanity is encountering the same problem and applying the same proposed solution over and over again. The heart of the sinful person is just that. The encountering of pain and prescribing the same solution-- self centered, individualistic pursuits of pleasure. Utility can never assuage reality, no matter what we make it out of.
Yet, the interpretive frame of individualism changes perceived reality. Individualism will never be capable of finding lasting peace in the heat of the pain. Individualism sees suffering as a personal offense to the self, and in so seeing perceives the individual's right to find pleasure at all cost. No matter what, or who it hurts.
This is a truth claim that stings even me as I write it. That I know in the past, I have latched my understanding of the Gospel to my understanding of offense, and in doing that I sought justice that was not mine to have. Which leads us to yet another point.
Paul speaks clearly on suffering so often in the New Testament, that we cannot begin to deny his personal experience with it. Yet, Paul does not exert his right to rebel. Paul does not scream. He does not protest. Instead Paul tells us to love our enemy. Romans chapter 12 has a lot to say concerning this. Specifically, as Christians we are called to bless those
who persecute us.
In our culture, one could look and say that Paul is telling us to bless the very people that cause our suffering. As Christians, we are called no matter our skin tone or our constitutional rights to bless those that hurt us.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them
So much of the cry of our culture is currently, “No Justice. No Peace.” I am convinced that Paul would say to us, “No Peace. No Justice.”
In a sense, we see this presented to us only a few verses down in Romans 12. It is there that Paul writes:
If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.
Again, that stings. How could the Bible, the source of my constitutional arguments and my social ones tell me to love those that cause my pain? It can say it because suffering is real. furthermore, it can say it because God is sovereign over that suffering.
It is there that we come to understand the truth of our strong opinions in a culture of strong opinions. We deny the sovereignty of Christ. More importantly, we deny His sovereignty and place ourselves in the position which is rightfully His.
I am reminded of what we read in the book of Proverbs. It is there that we see something insightful about pain. We see that God in fact is the one who loves us enough to cause our discomfort. One reads:
My son, do not despise the Lord's discipline
or be weary of his reproof
for the Lord reproves him whom he loves,
as a father the son in whom he delights
Ouch! We as Christians (or not) have to recon this truth. That even my suffering, whatever it is perceived to be, has a purpose.
One fine example of this can be found in the life of the Joseph. Many of you may only know of Joseph from the Broadway musical of his namesake and his coat of many colors. However, the life of Joseph was one that was marked with suffering. Forsaken by his own brothers, sold into slavery, put in prison and denied his “right” to freedom.
Yet, Joseph through all of that was given an unbelievable blessing. He was used by God to save the entire nation of God’s people. Joseph says to us in Genesis 50:
Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.
I don’t know about you, but I ask a hard question at that point. How could Jospeh of all people, make such a hard statement on God's sovereignty? The answer has to be a hard understanding of sin in light of personal suffering. Joseph knew a lot about that in particular.
So what do we do then with what we are seeing in our culture ? Are we not to be people with opinions? I certainly hope not. Yet, I do think that our opinions should be godly and that our application of them should be placed secondary to the worship of self.
What does that mean? It means that when we are offended by suffering, Christians are not allowed to play Doctor. We don’t have the scalpel to end the suffering of this world. In fact when we presume that we do, we are placing ourselves in the seat of God Himself.
We cannot fall into the trap of false pleasure. We seek in our offense to find the pleasure promised by it’s proposed solutions. Those solutions are presented to us from vastly differing perspectives. Whether we call it justice or we call it constitutionality the truth is both are mere fallen representations of the true Judge. I promise, He is Sovereign and we are called to recognize that authority by serving Him. That is true no matter what side of the coin you are on.