Suffering - Is there a purpose?
Sermon for the Second Sunday after Pentecost published by Pastor J
Bible reading: Romans 5:1-8
In those quiet, introspective moments when I used to sit and just watch our children sleep, it amazed me to try to imagine just what was ahead of them in their lifetimes. It is the same with any little child. They have it all ahead of them. What will they do in their life? Where will they go in the years allotted to them, whether they be long or short. Who knows?
With what sort of person will she fall in love? Where will he make his life? Will it be a happy life, a hard life, a fortunate life? Will her heart ever be broken? Will he one day be a Grandfather? A great-Grandfather?
If they live for the average human lifespan these days, will there be an ozone layer left by then, will Australia be one big dustbowl? Will there be any fish left for them to catch, or will pollution destroy the sea as well as the air? Will they have to work twice as hard as we do now to make a living, as inflation rises at twice the rate of the money they can earn? Will there be wars in their lifetime? More pandemics? Will the ocean be higher and the Great Barrier Reef gone due to climate change?
Will they walk through this world constantly anxious, or will it be a life of peace?
There will be some suffering in their lives. That is inevitable. Or at least it used to be seen that way. The big danger these days is that parents try to keep their children happy all the time, and never let them suffer, and the problem is that when they come across suffering, they do not know how to handle it, as they have no experience of it.
Can you protect (a child) her from ever suffering? No. In the end, we all lose loved ones, we face sickness and pain. Suffering is part of our lives. I used to tell kids when I was a school Pastor that I did not want them to be happy, and some of them looked at me like I was crazy, as they had never been told that before. All their parents ever wanted was for them to be happy. No I did not want them to be happy, I wanted them to be whole, which means that they are able to cope with it, they have learned some resilience, so that they can survive, and even thrive, when circumstances around them make them unhappy.
You won’t be able to protect your child from bullies. There will be some people with whom they will just never get on well. That is the nature of relationships.
But suffering can be the part of our lives for which we can be the most thankful! I have heard it said that we should thank our enemies, as they teach us the most about ourselves. It is in the hard times in life that we grow, that we learn to stand up and face the world again every day. It is then that we start to gain confidence, to say, “hey, I can take this. This can’t hurt me. I will surfice”. And we would never have known how much we can endure, until we had to find out by going through it. And what does that give us, as the writer says? : Hope. We will only get that if we go through suffering and come out the other side.
In a spiritual sense, having to endure pain and suffering is not a sign that we do not have enough faith, as some people claim. After all, Jesus suffered immensely in his innocent death, and he was not being punished for anything he had done, and he certainly had no lack of faith. Suffering is not some sort of punishment placed on us by God, apart from that which we all share, of having to live in a fallen world. There will always be suffering for the vilest sinner and the purest saint as long as we are this side of heaven.
In actual fact suffering is a chance for us to be made more like Jesus, our suffering servant. Have you ever thought of that when hardship and suffering strikes: I have the chance to be more like Jesus?
Have you ever seen someone walk through life having complete peace with God? I have seen it in the lives of some people, and you know, I have seen it not because they sail serenely along with never a wrinkle in their outlook or a cold or a flu or a bad hair day. Quite the opposite. In fact the people I have known who are the most at peace with God in their lives I have known through their suffering, through spending time with them as they have struggled with tragedy, and disease, and accident and illness. But I have not seen it in what happens to them. I have seen it in the way they look at what happens to them.
It is a beautiful thing even though it does not always look any prettier on the outside. But these people don’t complain about their own lives. Instead, they always worry about others and their problems. They don’t accuse others when anything goes wrong in their own lives, but they rely on God. They don’t have to compete with everyone else to make them feel better about themselves, because they know that God is happy with them, and that is enough for them.
They are not always living in fear, but something is there in their life that gets them through the hard times.
And that thing is the friend that they can lean on, who has been through all of it and more. This is the great gift that we should be striving to give to our children: Not the absence of any suffering in life, but the sure foundation that when that suffering comes, they can stand firm because of the God who is theirs in the midst of, and in spite of anything that this world can throw at them. It is the Romans 8:18 peace that says that the sufferings of this present time are not even worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
What a wonderful gift to give to our children, to bring them to God in Baptism, and to tell them of, and show them the love that this friend has for them. It means giving them peace with God.
May Jesus your friend and saviour bless you as you walk through this life, through the good times and the bad, through whatever will happen, until the day when you go to be with him, where there will be no more pain or hardship or sorrow. Never lose sight of that sure and certain hope.