Why We Suffer: Part 2 Kendall Lankford
May 23, 2018
In our last post, we looked at, perhaps, the most obvious reason why Christians suffer.
We do things that injure us, wreak havoc in our lives, and we experience the consequences for those decisions.
But that cannot be the whole story!
Our sin simply cannot account for the totality of why suffering still occurs in this world. If it could, then we must reduce all of life and everything we encounter down to the miserable fact that we are all just wretched sinners. That would make our life into a cosmological quid-quo-quo equation, where a Zeus like deity hurls a barrage of lightning bolts at our head when we fail and in the odd chance we succeed he cheers. That sounds an awful lot like fatalism.
What level of hope would that offer someone who suffers innocently? How would that comfort a victim? How might that account for acts of unprovoked violence or premeditated betrayal that many of us face?
To make all suffering out to be the result of sin, would be to look at the rape victim and say: “this is your fault”. It would mean looking at the child, abandoned at birth, as the guilty party. This not only feels wrong it is utterly evil.
With that, I want us to look at the second reason why Christians suffer.
REASON 2: We suffer when others sin
Some of the most painful sufferings we will ever face happens when someone else has sinned. The list of possible examples could be long enough to circle around the sun a couple hundred times. Here are just a few.
- A wife suffers when her husband cannot stop watching pornography.
- A child suffers under workaholic parents who are never home.
- A student suffers under the constant criticism of a tyrannical bully.
- A homeowner suffers when they awake to a home that was broken into.
(PRACTICAL EXERCISE: Try writing out some of the ways you have been sinned against.)
This kind of suffering is compounded when we consider the lasting impact others sins will have on us. The wife doesn't only suffer while her husband is visually cheating on her. She suffers a multitude of emotions and hurts that will stay with her long after the action has ceased. The child will sit in therapy sessions years after the parents are retired and the bullies have all grown up. The homeowner will flinch in fear every time a noise occurs they cannot identify.
You may be suffering now as a result of someone else's sin.
When we are sinned against we suffer unjustly. When we are sinned against we often suffer much harder and far longer than the perpetrators. We end up carrying those wounds far longer than we should.
And let’s just be honest, this kind of suffering is by far the hardest to overcome. Why? Because along the way we become hardened by our pain. We realize that being vulnerable opens up doors that will get us hurt all over again, so we wall ourselves up to keep ourselves safe. We bury ourselves deep within a stone fortress of protection not realizing we have placed ourselves completely out of reach of everyone including God. Doing this, in my estimation, may even be worse than the sin that caused it…
What must we do?
1) Honestly Reflect
We must be honest about what has happened. We were sinned against and we did nothing to provoke it or deserve it. We bear the scars of someone elses wrongdoing, which makes us a victim. But that does not mean we may go on living as a victim. To do so would be to allow another person’s sin to rule over us, cripple us, and harm us far longer than it should. To do that would be to choose the power of our pain over the power of our God, who is able to redeem our broken hearts (Psalm 34:18).
2) Reject "Fairness"
We must not bow down to the “god of fairness”. The world we live in is not always fair and equitable. Many do not get the good they deserve while many receive the wrong that they didn’t. To believe the world is always fair is to set oneself up for a massive fall. Furthermore, I cannot tell you how many people the enemy has suffocated in the elusive web of fairness. He whispers things like: “you did not deserve this”, “that wasn’t fair”, all the while he is wrapping you up in a cocoon of spiritual and emotional death.
The enemy wants nothing more than to get us tangled in a web called "fairness". He whispers things like: "you did not deserve this”, “that wasn’t fair” all the while he is wrapping us up in a cocoon of spiritual and emotional death.
3) Adopt A Christ-centered Perspective
We must view our pain through a Christ-centered lens. If anyone has suffered unjustly it was Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21). In fact, every pain we have ever felt was first committed against Him. All sins are first and foremost committed against God, which means everything we have suffered He too has also suffered. The very things that ache us and crush us are the very things that also crushed Him. He died for all those sins that were committed against us because they were also committed against Him. This means
He not only understands our pain He experienced it right along with us.
4) Imitate Him
In light of everything above, we must imitate Him. We must follow the way He suffers if we want to walk in His freedom. Why? Because in His suffering, He did not do what we do. We build walls; Jesus tears them down. We sit down; Jesus stands up. We become restlessly bitter; Jesus pushes forward out of joy. (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus does not placate the pain of sin; He triumphs over it.
We cannot simply rest in His victory we must also follow Him into His freedom.
This may take a lifetime and may be the hardest thing we could ever do, but it is absolutely necessary if we want to be free. Along the way, we will need to give ourselves a ton of grace, because this is so counter-intuitive to our natures. In fact, I believe it is easier to live in the bondage that someone else has caused instead of pushing forward into the freedom Christ has for us. Perhaps this is why many victims keep on getting victimized and why sins get passed down through the generations. We naturally end up identifying with our sufferings instead of the one who suffered all things for us.
This is why the buck must stop with us. We must choose Jesus’ victory as our reality. We cannot have our identity defined by someone else's sin. Instead, our identity must be forged in Jesus Christ and what He has done to overcome. There is freedom in nothing else.
Here is a practical example.
In Acts 5, some of the apostles were on trial for proclaiming the resurrection of Christ. Notice in this passage how they suffer unjustly for the sins of unbelieving men. But, notice how much freedom they experience based on the way they choose to respond.
“After they called in the apostles and had them flogged, they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus and released them. Then the disciples went out from the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to be treated shamefully on behalf of His Name.”– Acts 5:40-41 (emphasis mine)
If you are currently suffering as a result of someone else's sin, please accept this letter. I may not know you, or the pain you are currently feeling, but I have suffered too.
Dear suffering sinned-against Christian,
I am sorry. I know your pain is deep and real and you did nothing at all to deserve it. I imagine everything within you wants to grab the emotional center blocks and get to building. I pray that you do not do that. You were a victim, but that does not mean you need to go on living that way. If you do, you are missing out on the freedom Jesus has for you. He wants to heal you and restore you. Allow Him access to your heart even if it is hard. Learn how to be vulnerable again, even if that goes against every inclination you may be feeling.
You are loved,