Suffer-less Christianity: A House of Cards

A couple of years ago I surveyed the students who had been on Global Projects (InterVarsity's short term mission program). Forty percent experienced depression upon return. I have watched students come back from a summer living in some of the most desperate conditions humanity is experiencing today, and ditch the faith. They do not have the theological framework to support the existence of an all-powerful good God, and the reality of human suffering.

We in the western church have built a house of cards for our faith - beautiful, large, and colorful, but completely unable to sustain the weight of suffering.

The New Unger's Bible Dictionary has over 6,700 thoroughly researched entries. They have an entry on the word "sulfur," for instance (referencing Sodom and Gomorrah) but they have no entry for the word "suffer." According to this Bible dictionary, the Bible has nothing to say about suffering. This is clearly a reference tool constructed from a western Christian theology - one that has no room for suffering. How can we in good conscience send this resource to believers in China or Uganda or any other place Christians are suffering poverty, oppression or persecution?

I remember the comments of the General Secretary of the Rwandan Christian student movement after the horrific genocide of 1994. He was in a Burundian refugee camp with his wife and daughter. Leaders in the International Fellowship of Evangelical students offered to bring him out to England for theological studies. He said, "If I do not share in the suffering of my people, how can I share in their joy in the end?" Some of the "New Friar" agencies have identified suffering as a value which they embrace.

Suffering is a kingdom reality, it is the bedrock upon which the streets of gold are laid. Without it, there is no substance to God's people. Consider the following:

I Pet. 2:21 "To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps."

Rom. 5:3-4 "... but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope."

Phil. 1:29 "For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him."

Phil 3:10-11 "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead."

Heb. 13:3 "Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering."

James 5:10-11 "Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered."

I Pet. 4:12-13 "Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed."

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