You know what really bothers me? All this talk about suffering in the Bible. How suffering is necessary to conform us into the image of Jesus. How suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us (Romans 5:3-5). Quite honestly, I want to go all Thomas Jefferson on this and cut these passages out of the Bible.
Am I the only one here?
But here’s the thing guys and gals— I believe that the Bible is God’s Word. No, not in the sense where it was dictated word for word. No, no, not that way at all. Instead, it is a revealing of who God is through many authors and genres. While Jesus definitively reveals who God is (since he’s God in the flesh), the other books of the Bible also paint portraits of God. And the Bible speaks to suffering in a completely different way from other world religions and worldviews.
Suffering is not some esoteric debate topic— it’s a very real thing. We all suffer in life, while some might suffer greater than others, all cannot escape . However, the way we handle suffering is quite different.
Christianity is different because God himself suffered. He knows what it’s like to suffer, both in want and in hurt. Not only did the God-Man, Jesus the Messiah, suffer a brutal death through crucifixion, he also encountered separation from the Father.* The Christian faith makes the claim that God understands suffering and he is not indifferent to it. There is coming a time when wrongs will be righted and a Kingdom of Righteousness will be implemented—when the world is put to rights.
Until that day, we live in a broken world. The sunshine and rain alike will fall both on those who follow Jesus and those who reject him. And for this we wait in profound assurance that God hears our prayers in the middle of suffering.
*The second person of the Trinity experienced separation from the first person of the Trinity on the cross. If we understand that God is Trinitarian (3 in 1 and 1 in 3, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), then this separation can be seen as incredibly painful. The eternal relationship within the Trinitarian God had an incredible strain, since Jesus was forsaken by the Father on the cross.
In my reading this week, I came upon this beautiful passage by Richard John Neuhaus. In it, Neuhaus reflects on the thief hanging next to Jesus on the cross. While both of them slowly begin the process of Roman execution, one of the thieves (Dysmas, as legend names him) turns to Jesus and asks to be remembered by Jesus. Neuhaus writes,
“According to [Dorothy] Sayers, Dysmas turned toward the light, but he did not believe in the light. His ‘Lord, remember me’ was not an act of faith but an act of charity. It is the kind of thing one might say to someone who imagines he is Napoleon. But then, says Sayers, with Jesus’ unexpected answer there is a moment of illumination, of insight; it is not unlike an act of faith. Of Dysmas she writes: ‘He is confused between the crucified man, of whose weakness it would be selfish to demand one added agony, and the eternal Christ, of whose strength he is half aware, and with those sufferings he seems to be mysteriously identified, so that in some strange way each is bearing the pain of the other.’
Certainly Jesus was bearing the pain of Dysmas, and of the other thief, and of all humanity half aware and unaware. ‘Today turn to him. At times we turn to him with little faith, at times with a mix of faith. Jesus is not fastidious about the quality of faith. He takes what he can get, so to speak, and gives immeasurably more than he receives. He takes our faith more seriously than we do and makes of it more than we ever could. His response to our faith is greater than our faith.
Once a father came to Jesus asking him to heal his sick child. ‘All things are possible to him who believes,’ Jesus said. The father cried out, ‘I believe, help my unbelief!’ And so cry we all. At another time Jesus said if you have faith, no greater than a mustard seed, you can move mountains. Here on Golgotha, the place of death and devastation. Dysmas has faith smaller than a mustard seed, and it blossoms into a tree of eternal life, a tree of paradise. Christ’s response to our faith is ever so much greater than our faith. Give him an opening; almost any opening, and he opens life to wonder beyond measure.”
Death on a Friday Afternoon page 37-38
Do you want to have your heart sing? Hear this promise to you:
“But anyone who loves God is known by him.” (I Corinthians 8:3)
If you love God, if you seek after him—even if it is imperfect—you are known by him. The one who brought forth matter and gravity a gazillion years ago knows you.
And do you want to know how badly he loves you?
He chose to come down and take our place, he chose to bear the consequences of our sin, guilt, and shame. For the joy of this relationship, he endured the brutal, bloody death on the cross for you.
If you love God, you are known by him.
Following Jesus will cost you something. It will cost you this: putting your whole life on a table and letting him remove certain things. Things that might be incredibly costly like your identity, vices, or library.
11 God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, 12 so that when the handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were brought to the sick, their diseases left them, and the evil spirits came out of them. 13 Then some itinerant Jewish exorcists tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” 14 Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. 15 But the evil spirit said to them in reply, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?” 16 Then the man with the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered them all, and so overpowered them that they fled out of the house naked and wounded. 17 When this became known to all residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks, everyone was awestruck; and the name of the Lord Jesus was praised. 18 Also many of those who became believers confessed and disclosed their practices. 19 A number of those who practiced magic collected their books and burned them publicly; when the value of these books was calculated, it was found to come to fifty thousand silver coins. 20 So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.
Acts 19:11-20 (emphasis is mine)
Following Jesus will cost us something, even admitting the dark truth that is within our story. But friends, everything he removes he will replace with 10 times as much.
What might be the cost for you?
“Has it ever occurred to you that 100 pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which one must individually bow. So 100 worshipers meeting together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be were they to become ‘unity’ conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship.”
In Christ alone my hope is found He is my light, my strength, my song This Cornerstone, this solid ground Firm through the fiercest drought and storm
The Lion King taught be a great lesson, it taught me that life and death are intertwined in this world. Lions eat the antelope, lions die and feed the grass, and the antelope eat the grass. Yes dear reader, there is a circle of life that moves us all (and you now have the song is stuck in your head).
In Scripture, we are told that the pain of death is something that we cannot escape. It is always there, lingering on the sidelines of life. As the writer of Ecclesiastes puts it, there’s a time to live and a time to die. In my case, there’s a time for the birth of my daughter and a time for the death of my grandmother. Readers, life is strange like that.No guilt in life, no fear in death This is the power of Christ in me From a life’s first cry to final breath Jesus commands my destiny
Recently, I lost somebody who impacted my early life. My grandma helped form who I am in Christ. One thing I remember vividly was when she picked me and my brother up from school and took us to the Peppertree Frosty to get an ice cream cone. I remember sitting in her car, eating that cone as she began telling us stories. She told us stories about how Abram was called from the land of his fathers and how he journeyed with God, eventually taking on the new name Abraham. She told us about Ruth and how she became a key part of the lineage of Jesus. She told us about David and how he was a man who followed God even with imperfections.
She recounted the stories of people who followed after God. While eating ice cream, she embedded into me the tales of faith and how imperfect people could follow after Him.No power of hell, no scheme of man Could ever pluck me from His hand Til He returns or calls me home Here in the power of Christ I stand
When my grandma was laid to rest next to my grandpa, I was reminded about how all I can do in this world is build a legacy in others. I can leave behind a life of faith that was given to others. A life of faith that was poured into the lives of family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors. As Bonhoeffer would suggest, life together with others is only made better through being united in Christ.*
From the (soon to be) first cry of my daughter, to the final breath of my grandmother, I will trust in the assurance that in Christ alone I can put my hope. That it is in his assurance of life, that I can leave a legacy of faith to others. I can point them to the great story of how God pursued his people when they chose to walk away in the Garden. And we are invited to join this story, a story made even better with an ice cream cone.
* For more in depth exploration of this, see my four part series on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together that can be found here.
Do you think that we should get everything right when it comes to believing in God?
It might be odd hearing this from someone with a Masters in Theology, but I really don’t think so. I have written several times here that God is not concerned about us getting things right. He’s not primarily concerned that we get our theological act together.
Should we have a strong understanding of theology? Absolutely! We should study our roots in Church History, explore the depths of our faith in Theology, and grasp Scripture with confidence through Biblical Studies, but these areas of studies should not be what comes first. What comes first is who we are now and who we are becoming. Jesus was most concerned with a new way of being.
Jesus said to his disciples in John that he gave them a new commandment. He didn’t say try harder, become a better you, get everything right on a test, or dare to be Daniel. No, instead he told them “just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” In fact, this was meant to be the main identifier of Christ followers. All people would know that this motley crew were followers of Jesus through the love exhibited towards each other.
Jesus was not concerned with getting your beliefs right. He wasn’t concerned about you passing the theological SAT’s. As important as that stuff might be, he was concerned about a new way of being. He was concerned that they loved each other and through this love they would invite others into a better story. A story that has an ending where God wipes every tear away from their eyes.
I do hope you might deepen your understanding of the God revealed in Scripture, but don’t start there. Choose to follow Christ and be a disciple of his. Follow him and take a new way of being, a person marked with faith, hope, and love.
Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.
-Pope John Paul II
Do you ever find yourself abandoning hope in the moments chaos and despair? Do you find yourself ever waking in the middle of the night and not knowing how you’re going to get through the stormy night of your soul?
Dear readers, in those moments of darkness don’t give in. Don’t abandon yourself to despair.
If you are in Christ, you have a different song. Not one of dead-ended sorrow, but a song that is rooted in the triumphant hope of Easter. When darkness rolls into your soul, when storm clouds appear on the horizon, cling to this reality. Cling to this song, even when it doesn’t seem real.
My church, Holy Trinity Anglican Church, provided this incredibly encouraging note along this line:
“Easter provides the certainty that allows those who find life challenging to keep walking in faith while they wait for a spouse to marry, a new job, to finish that last class before graduation, or to anticipate a friendship to be reconciled. Easter-faith is backbone and joy for the journey– it changes everything!”
Trust in the risen Christ. Trust that he will provide, even when you cannot see how. Believe me, I’m there in the dark clouds, but this all I can hold onto. I will hold onto this reality, for I am an Easter person, and Easter faith will be my backbone. For the LORD, the covenant keeping God, will provide.
How do you not abandon yourself to despair?
Our pastor recently said that what is true about Jesus will be true of those who are united in Christ.
Think about that for a second.
If we have been united in Christ, we too can share the same Spirit of power that raised Jesus from the dead. Pretty incredible!
I did a search of “in Christ” at Biblegateway, and it is true that Paul is obsessed with this phrase. Not only are we raised to newness of life in Christ (see I Corinthians 15 and my previous post on this), but we are also a new creation (II Cor 5:17), we have freedom (Gal 2:14), we have been justified/declared righteous (Gal 2:16), and we are sons and daughters of God in Christ (Gal 3:26). More can certainly be written, since there are more examples of this phrase in Paul’s writings, but I hope you get the picture that being “in Christ” is more than kind of a big deal.
Our lives in Christ
Since being in Christ is a big deal, I hope you understand that our core definition of who we are is not our career, our marriage, our hobbies, or our history. No, it is who we are in Christ. A flower is beautiful whether it is connected to the root or when it is freshly cut. However, that flower will slowly wither if it is not connected to anything. We too must be connected to Jesus, like a flower planted in a beautiful garden. We too can be connected to a sustained life.
Don’t get me wrong though, being in Christ does not mean that all will be golden. We will be called to live differently, to act differently, and to speak differently. Sometimes, there will be conflict. Whether that conflict means a sword or heavy criticism from loved ones, being in Christ can produce incredible discomfort. For being in Christ means you are part of a different Kingdom, different than the darkness that is so often around us. Sometimes, this difference will promote tremendous conflict. We are given the choice, the chance to be a part of a grand story. You and I can become part of the story of God, the story of the Kingdom breaking into a broken world. If we are in Christ, we too can become a part of that narrative. We too can become be immersed into this story.
But dear friend, if you are in Christ, know that there is no condemnation, there is only an abundant life. You will be united in Him in his death and resurrection. As I mentioned previously, don’t worry about going to heaven when you die, know and be assured that if you are in Christ you will be given life. The resurrection of the dead and life everlasting will happen, and you will be in that number.
My time at Fuller Seminary has dramatically shaped me in many ways. One of the ways that it has formed me is the profound realization that Christianity is not concerned primarily with “going to heaven when I die.”
Please hear me out before you send off a tweet like, “Farewell @jeremydriley” or “@jeremydriley has gone heretical. Next he’ll be talking about how Five Guys is better than In-n-Out.” (For the record, In-n-Out beats Five Guys every day of the week)
I’ve noticed that there is an underlying theme to the New Testament, a tune that recurs in the Gospels and Epistles. As symphonies and movie scores use a recurring theme under a piece of music, the constant tune that reappears and reinvents itself in so many different ways in the NT, is that of union with Christ.
One thing you need to know about me is that I enjoy classical music. I love the emotion that captures me, it’s so unlike any other type of music. One of the pieces that caught me at a particular event was when the Pacific Symphony in Orange County played Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” (If you haven’t heard, you really need to give it a try). There is a part in the piece that the music grows in intensity and it left me emotionally paralyzed in my chair (it starts at the 6:30 mark in the video). As it builds, the crescendo is finally reached and the music slowly winds down for the next couple of minutes.
If the New Testament was like a symphony, Paul would see the high point, the crescendo of our lives, as union with Christ. Reading through his letters, we see this constant theme, this steady refrain of “in Christ.” Go ahead and give it a look. You’ll find Paul pressing this point many times in his letters.
Yes, I believe we will “go to heaven.” But heaven is not the end. Heaven is only the beginning. If you are in Christ, there will be a life after this life after death, as NT Wright would put it. Think about this for a moment: there will be a new heavens and new earth. Our bodies will be resurrected, just as Jesus’ body was restored to life on Easter morning. Thankfully, we won’t be like zombies with a hunger for brains, but instead we will be physical like Jesus, our bodies will be restored and renewed.
If we have been joined to Jesus, in his death, then we will be joined in his glorious resurrection.
Think of it this way, Jesus is like a prototype. He is the firstfruits, as Paul would write in I Corinthians 15. His resurrection means for us (if you are in Christ) that we too can be raised to newness of life and experience a form of it now. We too can go through death without the sting, for Jesus the crucified Messiah has given us victory. That, my friends, is something you can hold onto.
But what does union with Christ mean for us here and now? Head over to part 2 for the thrilling conclusion!
What other themes do you find in the New Testament?