Why Must Christians Suffer?

Why do I share Christ in my writing and in conversations with people who claim that God does not exist? I do it “to complete what is lacking in the affliction of Christ” (Colossians1:24). Christ’s suffering is completely sufficient to rescue every person from sin and death, but it is an incomplete sacrifice until every person has heard the good news. When I share the good news, I enter into the completion of Christ’s suffering by assuring that it is made available to everyone. I may suffer, because I do this work, and to suffer for sharing the faith is normal. I do not seek to suffer, but the suffering that befalls me because I am sharing the good news of Christ is as normal as the working of the law of gravity. My suffering is not redemptive, but when I suffer because I share Christ, I am join the church around the world in bringing the redemptive suffering of Christ for all people to its completion, its natural ultimate purpose.

We American Christians truly believe that Christ suffered for us in order for us to be comfortable. The most common thread in Christian devotional writing is that real Christians feel good about thems elves and fulfill all their dreams. We believe that suffering is an occasional intrusion in our lives designed to make us stronger, a spiritual workout plan that will make us look better to God and man. This attitude is an outrageous perversion of God’s truth. In the words of John Piper, “God intends for the afflictions of Christ to be presented to the world through the afflictions of his people.” God never meant for us to think that being a Christian meant improved self-esteem.

Many American Christians feel that Christians are threatened by the Obama administration in many different ways. Some Christians interpret Donald Trump’s victory as an answer to prayer, and they predict that Christians will be more free to act like Christians under his administration. This prediction may even come true.

If so, wise Christians will not take it as the end of Christian suffering for the faith in the USA. That would not be God’s purpose for us. We may have been granted a reprieve, a temporary truce in the battle for the kingdom of God that will allow us to catch our breath. We may wish one another “Merry Christmas” without looking around to see who is taking offense. Nevertheless, our suffering is not complete until “the world [is] filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters that cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14 KJV).

I am glad that Hillary Clinton did not win the presidency. I truly believe that it will not be as difficult to speak and act our faith under the Trump administration as it would have been under a Clinton administration. Nevertheless, I do not think Christians should assume that every barrier to Christian faith and life has now disappeared. The cultural forces which gave Clinton more popular votes than Trump received are not going anywhere. The culture classifies many behaviors that are integral elements of the Christian life as ”extreme,” and powerful groups in both government and culture will continue to attempt to suppress behaviors such as public prayer, evangelism, and display of Christian symbols, to name a few. While the Constitutional design of our government may have “saved the day,” the forces of opposition to Christ and his followers are not diminished by a Trump victory. Like any foe who feels cornered, the forces that resist Christ and his message will only become more aggressive under what they perceive to be adversity. It remains to be seen what the attitude of government under Donald Trump will be toward Christians, but his election will not reduce the cultural pressure to suppress Christianity.

When we experience that cultural pressure, we must respond as Jesus did. When confronted by the choice between suffering and testimony, we must not allow ourselves to believe that a loving God would not permit his beloved children to suffer. Such a notion is promoted by secular thinkers as an argument against the existence of God. God does not promise to spare us from suffering. He only promises to go with us though our suffering. Christ suffered abandonment on the cross, but we will not be abandoned. His grace sustains us, as it sustained the apostle Paul. Paul asked for relief, and God answered, “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Suffering is not fun. It does not make us feel good about ourselves. However, when we suffer as Christ did, and when we experience his grace in the midst of our suffering,  Paul says that we participate in the completion of Christ’s suffering. We must recognize that our suffering is in the plan of God for the salvation and blessing of all people, because “God intends for the afflictions of Christ to be presented to the world through the afflictions of his people.”

Pray for America, that Christ’s redemptive suffering may bring her people to salvation. Pray for Christ’s body on earth to be made ready to complete the afflictions of Christ as we share the good news in word and deed.

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