Paul’s at it again. In chapter 3 we have three succinct summaries of three complicated parts of the Bible: Job, Habakkuk and Romans 1-9. I’ve jotted several of his sentences into my journaling Bible for future reference when reading these books. You get so much more from this book than just an understanding of suffering. I also had a ‘light-bulb moment’: I love the passages in the Bible that speak of us being mere clay and God the potter, making the point of who owns who, but I’d never made the connection that technically we are made of clay, being people of dust, so we literally are the work of our master potter! …. Call me slow…..
In chapters 3 and 4 Paul tackles the average approach to suffering head-on, challenging us not to ask the world’s questions when confronted by life’s hardships. That’s what we do, isn’t it? Well, that’s what I do…… And I didn’t realise quite how much I do it. Sure, I have all the ‘right theology’ to think about suffering ‘correctly’, nothing of Paul’s Bible teaching was a surprise to me here, but what was remarkable was his statement in chapter 4, "The experiences of life do not tell us what God thinks of us." Here’s yet another ‘it’s not about you’ moment. Life truly is all about God, about how he’s working out his purposes. That in itself was also not surprising. I’ve known it in theory, but these chapters pointed out to me that I did not follow it in practice. Because God (in his mercy) hasn’t sent anything massive my way suffering-wise, I hadn’t yet asked these questions of myself, but I have taken the ‘God must hate me’ point of view very seriously when my friends have expressed it. Chucking my theology out the window, I’d struggled with them to work out whether this is in some sense true. While I knew Romans 8:31-32 in theory, and had shared it with many sufferers, I hadn’t felt the power of it until now. The cross is the only verdict we need to work out where we stand with God. Yes, call me slow…..
So, this has been a great reset for my mind, and a personal challenge to actually apply what I know when it comes to the issue of suffering.
There are many other challenges in chapters 3 and 4. We’re confronted with the difficult reality that the Bible teaches: that God brings about all suffering. There’s no way to avoid this if you subscribe to the idea of a God who’s in control of everything (the very definition of ‘God’ as far as I’m concerned). Isaiah 45:7, Amos 3:6 and Lamentations 3:38 are hard-hitting verses. So is Jesus' response to injustice in Luke 13. As Christians we just can’t get away from a gospel that has the suffering of God himself planned from before the creation of the world. Keep this in mind, and your questions about suffering have to change. Paul flagged in chapter 2 that suffering is essential, and I wondered what that meant. He wastes no time telling us why, showing here how it’s essential to glory as shown by the cross.
I have no idea where Paul goes to from here. For me, I’m thinking out how I can get my friends (and myself) seeing our security from the perspective of the cross before the crisis moments come.