Saturday, October 15, 2016

"It Was Good for Me to be Afflicted"

I knew I was heading into depression, and here I am.  

I have an addiction to adrenaline, so whenever I step out of the serious crisis-oriented occupation that causes me to face suffering people daily and hear their stories of woe and oppression, then I go through withdrawals.  I am a drug addict, it's just that the drug that I long for is created within my body.  No need for pipes or needles.

And so I read about suffering in the Bible.  And there's a lot of it.  And I'm trying to figure out just how true it is for me.

Some may say, "You're an addict! That's not the same as the suffering for righteousness."  Well, I can understand that point of view.  But I'm not really an addict any more than Jesus was.  Jesus was supposed to take a time of rest, but when faced with the suffering of his fellow humans, he was "moved with compassion" and so worked more than was good for him. That's what gets me in this place.  So indulge me for a moment, and consider my depression-- the deep sickness in my stomach, the uncontrollable outburst when I look into a human face-- a form of suffering that might be acceptable in God's sight.

Paul and James and Peter have a pattern by which they prove that suffering is beneficial:

Suffering causes endurance
Endurance causes character
Character causes hope. 

Let's break this down.

The hope that they speak of is the hope of the Beatitudes-- the peace and mercy and kingdom of God in it's fullness.  The suffering and poor and mourning and persecuted do not experience it now, but it is the promise of God, the result of the sufferings they now experience.

The other NT writers spell out the secret steps between suffering and the future hope.  They say that suffering produces endurance.  That we persist in doing good and mercy through the suffering.  And that endurance produces character-- we display who we really are through remaining loving and pure in the midst of trials.

But what if we don't?

The patter assumes that the sufferer will endure.  But not everyone endures through suffering.  Some endure, but some break. I think they are correct that suffering is the step that indicates the character of the one put on trial.  But we make a mistake when we think that the NT writers were saying that suffering automatically leads to a display of positive character.

I know that my internal suffering causes me to be impure at times.  I am not loving through my suffering.  I sometimes endure, and sometimes I clearly do not.  And I think that's most of us.  Our lives are messy, not so clean cut, black and white to stamp "enduring" or "not-enduring" on our foreheads.

I think Jesus knew that.  Pretty sure he did. So he had us pray "Lead us not into trial."  It is often translated "temptation", but the Greek word periasmos in the gospels has a fuller meaning of, "a trial or suffering that causes us to fall away from faith."   It's a specific temptation-- a suffering that we can no longer endure through.  

Jesus is saying that we should beg God that such trails that break us be cast out of our way.

However, I am here to say, that such trials certainly come our way, despite our prayer.  It came Jesus' way in the cross.  It came Paul's way in his thorn of the flesh.  It came Peter's way when he denied Jesus.  We get caught in an affliction, a trap that causes us to fall.

I guess the real test of endurance is not that we break.  We will have times of deep failure.  Times when our love crumbles like a sand castle under a wave. That is a given.  

Endurance happens when God gives us the strength to step over the corpse of our failure and keep walking anyway.  

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