Monday, July 23, 2012

Paul Grimmond's 'Suffering Well' Chapters 5 and 6

At this stage in the book we follow a new trail, to take up the series’ guidebook metaphor (by the way, has anyone else noticed that the little man on the bottom of each page walks when you flick the pages? I’m easily amused.). The focus so far has been on suffering in general, and now we come to the (predictable) surprise that we’ve been waiting for as Paul turns to consider persecution. I must admit I hadn’t noticed that the New Testament doesn’t talk much about suffering in general and is more focused on suffering for Jesus. I knew about the presence of the latter, I just hadn’t spotted the absence of the former. (I’m glad Paul said that’s the hard bit, it makes me feel a bit better!) This is the predictable fact - the Bible is all about Jesus, not what’s happening with us, yet again!

You really can’t argue for a comfortable life from the Bible. It’s a pity that a lot of us manage to live it. We do really, don’t we?? I found these chapters a little too challenging because of that. They state more than once that we won’t be glorified with Jesus unless we suffer with him. And I can’t say that that’s not in the Bible. In fact I know very well that it’s there, but I like to try and ignore it. Awkward. Chapter 6 immediately answered the question I was pondering by the end of chapter 5; I often feel quite keenly that we Western Christians don’t know what we’re talking about when it comes to suffering for Christ. It’s a big challenge when Paul points out that Christian suffering’s not just physical persecution. It is hard to be reviled, and the way our society’s gone, all we have to do is quietly state that we think abortion’s killing, rather than a medical procedure, and we’ll find ourselves in hot water pretty quickly. But I feel keenly how easy it is to give into the temptation to not rock the boat. Then there’s the sorrow later of failing Jesus yet again. This is a form of suffering all right, but I still can’t help feeling that it’s pretty lame when I think of all those articles I’ve read in the Voice of the Martyrs. I don’t quite get what Paul meant by the fact that abuse and reviling is commonplace in our world, and therefore we don’t feel it so much. I think he was saying that that’s why we don’t see it as suffering. I’m not sure it works that way for me, perhaps because I don’t spend time on web forums. I related more to the temptation of wanting people to like me, only one of the many reasons why I’m not on Facebook.

Another thing this chapter made me think about was that the danger I’m in is more potent than that of suffering Christians. The danger of ‘the slow, spiritual death of a thousand tiny compromises’ (pg 97). That’s so poetic on Paul’s part, and like good poetry it makes the point very effectively. We really do need to spur each other on to live without shame, ‘to live such godly lives for Jesus that people will dislike or even hate us for it.’ (pg 98). I certainly don’t do enough of the spurring or the living! It appears vital for our eternal destiny that we feel the challenge of this chapter. Paul writes ‘a Christian unmarked by suffering is not a real child of God’ (pg 101). This is hard hitting. It sounds like ‘we’ll only be saved if we suffer’. There’s always a fine line between earning our salvation and exhibiting its reality. But I know when I’m making excuses yet again...

As for the unanswered question on page 93: Would Paul and Peter have written the same kinds of letters to us today? Pretty much! Perhaps the only difference would be that instead of commiserating with us in our suffering, they’d be exhorting us to stop avoiding it. Or they would if they were writing to me...

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