GOSPEL OF ADVERSITY
With many ears itching to hear only the gospel of prosperity (2Tim.4:3), very few heed the gospel of adversity and the plain speaking that accompanies it.
Redemption At the Fall, sin damaged the entire personality of man; his body, soul and spirit were deeply ‘wounded’ as a result of his conscious choice to give in to the crafty tempter (Gen.3:1-7). At our physical birth, we the descendants of the fallen Adam inherit the same fallen, broken and damaged personality. The redemption work of atonement required that body, soul and spirit of the fallen man be set right.
The terrible suffering of our Saviour on the cross on all the three fronts ensured that the complete redemption package is in place. His terrible physical anguish before and during the crucifixion was immeasurable. The flogging and crowning of His head with the wreath of thorns only compounded it. Yes, we were ‘sick’ from head to toe (Isa.1:6), hence it required that our Saviour in His atoning work on the cross bled to death from head to toe.
What about His emotional (soul) suffering before and during the crucifixion? I would caution the readers not to be carried away by some paintings which depict Christ praying in a dignified posture in the Garden of Gethsemane and being crucified with the loin cloth on. Even as the cross, with all its indescribable pain, loomed before the spotless Son of God, so emotionally was He perturbed that He fell prostrate on his face (Mk.14:35) sweating blood. What about the insults heaped on Him all along this ordeal – the spitting and stripping (Matt.27:27-31). Historians tell us that in order to instil uttermost fear of rebelling against their authority, the Romans ensured that the perpetrator was insulted publicly by crucifying him stark naked. So, virtually Christ covered the shame brought about by sin (Gen.3:7) by Himself enduring shame on the cross (Heb.12:2).
Coming to the spiritual suffering, let it be said that when all sin came upon His sinless self (2Cor.5:21), He experienced hell for us so that we do not end up there. Jesus’ only source of comfort in this fiery affliction till then (the Father’s presence) also abandoned Him, as the Holy God whose pure eyes cannot see evil (Hab.1:13) could not stay in the presence of despicable sin; hence that heart-rending cry from the cross, “My God, My God, (not My Father, in the way Christ had all along addressed His Father), why have You forsaken Me?” (Matt.27:46;Psa.22:1).
Even as the Saviour suffered, what is the Christian’s responsibility towards suffering? (It would be only physical and emotional suffering, for none can take away the constant spiritual joy in our hearts.) Well, we ought to welcome it (Phil.1:29), like the apostles of the early church did, ensuring all along that we are suffering for the right reasons only (1Pet.2:20).
“After calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them. So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:40-41).
Imprisoned without a just cause for four years, doesn’t Paul writing to the Philippian church use the words ‘rejoice’ and ‘joy’ not less than fifteen times, when many in his place would have liberally used words such as ‘regret’ and ‘woe’? Honestly, it would not be a case of exaggeration to say Paul turned the tables on suffering both virtually and figuratively.
During his imprisonment in Rome, Paul would be guarded (Acts.28:16) by Roman soldiers in three shifts of eight hours each. Being the passionate evangelist that he was (1Cor.9:19-23), do you think Paul missed a single opportunity to talk about Christ to the Roman soldiers? “For everyone here, including the whole palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ” (Phil.1:13).
Then there is martyrdom (Heb.11:35-37). We need to rejoice at that time too, knowing our ‘sunset’ in this perishable world would lead to glorious ‘sunrise’ in the imperishable, besides inspiring many to put their best foot forward for the cause of Christ.
There are two reasons why Christians suffer.
Being part of this sin-accursed world (Rom.8:22-23), they are not immune to deadly diseases or financial upheavals. Yes, sometimes God spares them and even cures them of incurable diseases, but mostly such ‘signs’ are reserved for unbelievers (1Cor.14:22) to lead them to faith and not necessarily for those who have already been cured of a far deadlier spiritual disease called sin (2Tim.4:20).
The world is not in them. Christians are like a boat – it has to be in water, but water ought not to enter it. So, scorn follows as day follows night. People think it strange, for instance, when we do not laugh at some of their jokes or walk in their corrupt ways (1Pet.4:4). Neither Christ (Lk.9:23;Jn.16:33) nor the apostles soft-pedalled on the issue of suffering (Acts 14:22). They presented the ‘gospel of adversity’ without sugar coating. When it comes to suffering, it deepens our relationship with our Redeemer, even as we cling to Him for strength and comfort. Therefore, it came as no surprise when Sadhu Sundar Singh observed, “The cross bears those who bear the cross.”
Since the ultimate purpose of our call is to be moulded into Christ-like image (2Cor.3:18), suffering plays the role of a refiner removing the impurities even while instilling Christ-like patience in us (Jas.1:2-4). As Christians, we need to remember that while salvation (Rom.10:8-10) and rapture into the Promised Land (1Cor.15:51-52) are the miracles of the moment, accomplished in a fraction of a second, the growth of a saint, on the other hand, is a life-long process. Didn’t the departure of Israelites from their bondage in Egypt (Num.33:3-4) and their entry into the Promised Land (Josh.3) take just a day each, whereas their journey of ‘sanctification’ lasted 40 long years?
“Pastor, please pray for the transfer of my colleague from the department,” pleaded a Christian Bank officer, and “for this colleague of mine is one big pain in my neck,” he added petulantly. The pastor nodded, but did not pray. When the officer met the pastor a month later, he complained, “Pastor, the thorn in my flesh, my colleague, still remains in my department. Please pray that, if not him, at least I should get transferred from that department.” The wise pastor nodded again, but did not pray. In the third month, the troubled officer finally pleaded with the pastor, “I don’t know why your prayers are not being answered, pastor. However, if my irksome colleague and I are destined to work together, please pray that I should develop Christ-like patience.” “Hallelujah!” exclaimed the pastor.
By the way, the pastor is not the only intermediary for prayers; every Christian has been given the privilege of approaching God in prayer (Jas.5:13).
Coming to the crux of the matter, why does the Father want all of us to be like His Son (1Jn.3:2)? Shouldn’t heaven be filled with beautiful people like Jesus (SS.5:10)? We are going to spend eternity with Him. We need to love Him like Christ does.
Do rewards await us in heaven for suffering patiently in this fallen world? Oh yes! “Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory He will reveal to us later.” What kind of glory would it be? “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1Cor.2:9).