Thursday, March 04, 2010

Semester in the Seminary of Suffering

Your suffering will show you that the timing of teaching and touching is crucial...When you walk through your own valley of darkness you learn these things. This is your lifelong seminary. If you are called to counsel others, I entreat you, do not begrudge the seminary of suffering. -John Piper
Many factors over the course of the past two months play into the unmistakable truth that I am in a semester in the seminary of suffering. Academically, I just finished an extensive study of 1 Peter in my Greek Exegesis class, where one major theme is suffering. I also recently took an intro to counseling course that exposed me, albeit briefly, to the reality of the vast suffering experienced throughout local churches all over the world. For work, I am helping to prepare a sermon series on suffering. Personally, I have heard several sermons as of late on the theme of suffering and I have begun to explore my life and the painful losses that occurred in my past. Finally, my time in the Word has opened up my eyes to the consistent message of suffering presented after Genesis 3.

However, I’m also learning that we balk at that word in America--suffering. We want to avoid it at all cost. We medicate ourselves with all society offers as means for comfort, security, and safety. Even when we know it is okay to suffer-—whether it be the loss of a loved one, experiencing rejection, being abused or neglected—-we don’t want to embrace the pain and the hurt. Instead I know so many people who just suppress it all, burying it deep within their hearts. But it never actually goes away; it never heals. And if it never gets dealt with it destroys them. They either become violent and angry, bitter at everyone or, and maybe even more frightening, they become numb to life and to God. He or she is a shell of a human being, an illusion of who they once were.

As I journey through this semester in the seminary of suffering, I am realizing that I have sought too long to avoid suffering in my life. Furthermore, my eyes are opening to the plain truth that I know too many people--Christians--like me. We do not have a proper theology of suffering. We do not get trained in a proper theology of suffering that incorporates both the mind and the heart. As a result, we do not know how to minister to others in their suffering, providing trite, cliché, theologically and emotionally hollow answers to questions we're unwilling to wrestle with before the Living, Triune God.

My journey has brought me to several conclusions I wish to develop over the coming weeks and months. The two major ones that constantly come to the surface are here, but I believe there are many more.

1. Suffering in Light of Eternity
"But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed" (1 Pet 4:13). This verse sums up the tone of the entire letter (1:7, 11, 21; 4:11, 13, 14; 5:1; 5:10). Peter is writing specifically about suffering because of persecution, but the principle of rejoicing in the midst of suffering as we look to Jesus' return can be extended to all areas of life. Moreover, we must realize that each and every person in this world has experienced some level of suffering. Their experience is unique and valuable because they are created in the image of God (Gen 1:26-27). C.S. Lewis states it poignantly:
There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations--these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But is is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit--immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. -C.S. Lewis
In light of eternity, how are we approaching suffering in our lives and the lives of others, both believer and unbeliever?

2. The Language of Lament
We do not need to be taught how to lament. What we need is simply the assurance that we can lament. -Michael Card
Put simply, our theology does not allow for the category of lamenting in our suffering. Somewhere we lost it and I for one grew up in a generation that knew little to nothing about it's place in the Christian's life. Yet we can look to Scripture--more specifically the lives of Job, David, Jeremiah and Jesus--not only to see that lament is possible for us, but that it even produces a stronger dependence on God than ever before.

Have you ever been taught about lamenting? If so, what did you learn? Have you ever seriously lamented? Is this a foreign concept to you?

I plan on expanding each of these a bit further because we have to ask why the necessity for eternity and lamenting is important for a proper theology of suffering and practice of it as we and others in our lives will undoubtedly suffer.

For now I must ask, are you too walking through a semester in the seminary of suffering?

By His Grace.


  1. Anonymous3:17 PM


    You Are A Sinner.
    "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." Romans 3:23

    There Is A Price On Sin.
    "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Romans 6:23

    "And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death." Revelation 20:14

    Jesus Died To Pay For Your Sins.
    "But God commendeth His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:8

    Salvation Is Not Of Our Works. It Is Through Jesus Christ.
    "But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." Romans 4:5

    God Wants To Save You If You Will Just Put Your Trust In Him.
    "For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." Romans 10:13

    If you understand these facts and want to go to Heaven, you can! Simply put your trust in Jesus Christ and ask Him to save you. If you need help with a prayer, I will include one in this post:

    Dear Jesus,
    I know that I am a sinner and deserve to go to Hell, but I believe you died for me and paid for all my sins. Please save me, Jesus, and take me to Heaven when I die. I am only trusting you for my salvation.

    In Jesus' name,

    If you prayed that prayer and meant what you said, YOU ARE SAVED !!!

    Please get into a good Independent, Fundamental Baptist Church and learn as much as you can about our wonderful Saviour.

    If we never meet on earth, then we'll see you in Heaven. =)

  2. Anonymous8:16 AM

    Thanks for this post - it summarizes much I too have been thinking about. After 30+ years in Evangelicalism lamenting is still mostly a foreign concept to me.

    I just read Brueggemann's Prophetic Imagination and it has a lot to say on the role of lament in the Bible as an antidote to numbness. I think both personally and as we think of evangelism this is an important consideration.

  3. I wonder if anyone has every written a treatise on the fact of suffering as it relates to "not yet" redemption of the body.

    Good Post!


  4. Matt,
    Thanks for the words. It is striking to me that lament is such a foreign concept. It may be in part because we as a "people" of God in America do not suffer as a whole. Very few churches in their entirety are being persecuted. Instead it is much more isolated. The isolation, coupled with the individualism in America cause us to feel very alone. Thus we put on the front before men and before God.

    The author of A Sacred Sorrow is very indebted to Brueggemann. I am just now getting exposed to him, but he seems amazing.

    Thanks for the words.

  5. Rick,
    Thanks for the words. I am curious what you mean by the "not yet" redemption of the body in light of suffering. Could you expound?

  6. It's something I've been thinking of lately. We have not as yet, temporally, experienced the redemption of the body - or, glorification, if you will (see 1 Cor. 1:30). And, as has been shown many times throughout scripture, suffering is a grand tool to place before the eyes, the spiritual realities. Consider Job 42:5, Col. 1:24. Even Lev 16:10 demonstrates this in a significant way, and even carries up right to the cross work of Christ in the way Jesus was the sin offering and Barabbas' symbolic representation of Azazel (see, if we think about the way Barabbas would be set free to wonder in the wilderness - with the suffering component - our hopes would be that it would lead him back to the only sacrificial lamb for "complete" redemption). This is preliminary thought right now so I would appreciate any input. I have many more thoughts on this but this will be enough to delineate my meaning - I think.

  7. Also, in a very simple way of course, I think it's neat that there are some (minor?) implications in Barabbas' name. His first name was Jesus and Bar Abba means son of the father. So, one the one hand, you have Jesus Bar Joseph - son of man and yet fully God, and then you have Jesus Bar Abba - seen in his murderous contemptuousness as son of his father. So, this wilderness experience - seen so many times in scripture - is this not a reference to suffering in some way to show us our need? Again - just thinking here. I haven't put the much needed background research into this yet.

  8. Oops...That should have said "Adoption", not glorification - in my first comment. See Romans 8:23