So far, we have considered two passages about what we should be looking at and seeking after to be continuously filled with light. From Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, we learned to “see the unseen” and “walk by faith and not by sight”. From the letter to the Hebrews, we learned to be “fixated on Jesus”, the Author and Finisher of our faith. Interestingly, the contexts of both these passages have the idea of “suffering” in common: for Paul, it was suffering associated with the ministry of the gospel (2 Cor. 4:5-18) and for the Hebrew Christians it was a result of their faith in Jesus as Messiah. (Heb. 10:32-33) Together, these verses give us a practical example of how seeing the unseen and looking unto Jesus changes our perspective on, and understanding of, life events all the while remaining filled with light.
That the world is filled with suffering is often used as an indictment against God by atheists and other kinds of unbelievers who argue that if an omnipotent and perfect Being created the universe, such a Being would not, could not, allow suffering to exist. Therefore, so they say, God does not exist, or if He does, He is a masochist and/or impotent to remove suffering. They conclude (or at least some do) that suffering is meaningless just like raw existence is meaningless and death a welcome end to it all. Contrary to this view, the above passages show that suffering can be part of a grand design that remains hidden except by seeing the unseen through faith and remaining fixated on Jesus, the originator and finisher of our faith.
What we look at and what we seek after has everything to do with how we navigate life’s vicissitudes. None of us will escape suffering; how we endure it is determined by how we see it and how we see it is decided by whether we have faith and whether Jesus is at the center of our lives. This doesn’t answer all the complexities that suffering brings but it is a starting point that can eventually make sense of it all. So, with Paul we come to see it as a “light affliction” giving way to an “eternal weight of glory”. With the Hebrew Christians we see it as loving discipline from a Father who is concerned more about our eternal destiny than temporary distress. (Heb. 12:3-8)
It is this association of divine discipline with suffering that is at once profound and confusing. We are often reminded of God’s love, benevolence, forgiveness and mercy and well we should be. But suffering as part of God’s design seems so foreign to what we are used to hearing it is taken negatively much of time; we have been naughty so God spanks us, that sort of thing. But, I think there is a much more weighty meaning to this kind of discipline, namely to bring us to perfection, not necessarily moral perfection but rather a depth of maturity that without suffering would be quite impossible to achieve like learning patience, for instance. (James 1:2-4)
In a truly remarkable passage Paul sums the matter up when he speaks of abandoning everything for Jesus and an eager desire to be “conformed to His death” through an intimate “fellowship of His sufferings” in order to finally “lay hold” of “perfection” and “attain to the resurrection from the dead”. (Phil. 3:8-15) Paul indeed could “see the unseen” and “looked” steadfastly to Jesus as the center and goal of his entire existence.
Finally, I think it important to distinguish suffering for the gospel and the discipline of God from self-inflicted suffering (like drug abuse), suffering inflicted by others (like war) and suffering that is circumstantial (like disease). Although God is ever-present in these situations offering hope through the Gospel and through Jesus, it is unwise to assume our afflictions come from identifying with the sufferings of Jesus, suffering because of our faith, or undergoing the discipline of our Father. Doing so exudes a spiritual pride that is breathtaking in its arrogance.
© W. G. Ryzek 2014