How to Make it Through Suffering. The Christian Hope: So much more than “you get to go to heaven when you die”

When Paul describes the Christian affections, he points to three primary ones again and, again. The triforce if you’re a Zelda fan of the Christian life: Faith, Hope and Love. For this post I would like to describe the Christian hope. Now there are two main reasons I think that the Christian hope properly understood is the answer to enduring through suffering.

  1. It is the Biblical answer, see 1 Thessalonians for an example, Paul knows they are suffering and so gives them a reminder of what the hope of the Christian is.
  2. It works, slowly but surely.

My family has had a ringer of suffering lately and we are starting to recover. From just coming into an extremely demanding job, the discovery of a mental illness of a close loved one, the death of my father in law, a major accident happening to my mother in law and finally our dog’s bone cancer over about 10 months and now his death.

Now the typical answers for hope just aren’t satisfying when you are in the pinnacle of suffering. Answers like: well at least you know he is in heaven. Or like God is mysteriously working good in this situation. Those cliché answers are partially true! However, they lack thoroughness and are often just believed by themselves and given by themselves without the robustness of the real Christian position. A half hope unfortunately provides almost 0 comfort.

I want to lay out the real Christian position for you. Unfortunately our society today doesn’t like to do a lot of thinking, we like quick answers, tick toks, vines, tweets.. etc. If you want to know the deep things God has for us through scripture though this will not do! The Bible is a LIBRARY. The books of the Bible were written to be read in one sitting mainly and the logical ideas of whole chapters and books to be understood in one sitting then meditated on. That being said the quickest way to understand the hope we have is to explore a logical section of a book that really tries to explain out this hope, one such section is Romans 8. I’ll break it down into four sections, describe the main points then the overall view of the Christian hope we get from it. I HIGHLY encourage you to read the chapter yourself, to pray and meditate on its truths and to receive them from the Spirit. Take my summary as a kind of quick guide but don’t take it as the rock solid truth, scripture is that and is available to you. I truly hope this helps you decide to try to grasp this chapter and other chapters and books in the Bible though.

 

The Layout

The basic layout of this chapter is

  1. Description of our current redemption (v. 1-11)
  2. Our obligation in our redemption (v. 12-17)
  3. Suffering and the longing for the redemption of all things (v. 18-27)
  4. How should we then live (given this suffering and longing) (v. 28-39)

 

Section 1: Description of Our Current Redemption

Coming in on Chapter 8 we need to understand that Paul has spent a lot of time describing out a number of things in Ch 1-7 that lead to the conclusions in Ch 8. Paul describes how man has been given dominion over creation, how man fell into sin and corruption and how the whole world is not corrupted. Paul has described the nature of the Law in the Old Testament, how it relates to the grace we have through Jesus and the struggle now in the Christian life in knowing what we ought to do yet not always doing it and this battle with the sin nature yet we are redeemed by the grace of Jesus Christ. Paul says since these things are true, therefore (v.1) there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.

Further, Paul goes on to describe why there is no condemnation. We have received the Spirit of God. Now, Paul contrasts two laws, one is the Law (capital L) this law is described in the Old Testament summarized in the 10 commandments. Basically, Paul has said in the previous chapters that the law was never intended to make us righteous, in fact it was given to us for us to fail to achieve it. The law was given so that Israel, and so the world as Israel was God’s priest to the world, could see how short we fall to God’s standard through our inability to keep it.

The second law is the law of Christ or of the Spirit. This law works differently. It aims at the intention of the mind. (v. 5) The law of the Spirit works via the indwelling of the Holy Spirit; He lives in us and will affect our affections in such a way that we now can see more clearly what is wrong and right. For instance, when I came to Christ, I used to use really foul language and I often spoke without considering others. I remember after my conversion I suddenly felt really bad about the way I had felt fine speaking to others. This was that law of the Spirit working in me drawing me to Christ’s standard.

Interesting in Section 1, Paul’s view of redemption is our being made righteous or godly not our going to heaven. The old Law was weak because it couldn’t do that, the Spirit’s law is greater because it CAN.

 

Section 2: The Obligation in Our Redemption

So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. – Romans 8:12,13

In this second section Paul describes the obligation we have now that we are redeemed. First, we are obligated to “put to death the deeds of the flesh”. Second, we are heirs of God, we call God “Abba!” or “Daddy!”. This second part points back to Genesis 1:28 when God gave humankind dominion over the world. This is the inheritance of mankind yet fallen man could no longer fulfill this but now we, who are spiritual are called back to that age-old inheritance are called to it. The primary and first way we fulfill this obligation is by putting to death the deeds of the flesh. This is because human sin is the heart of the world’s problem, so the solution is the godliness of humans. So our obligation is to pursue righteousness, specifically by spotting ways we are inclined toward selfishness and rebellion toward God. When we are convicted by the Spirit for not loving our neighbor we need to turn from that behavior, when we are convicted by the Spirit for not treating this world, nature, our responsibilities in life we should turn from that etc.

 

Section 3: Suffering and the Longing for the Redemption of All Things

Section 8 starts with a verse that the Christian view of suffering hinges on.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. – Romans 8:18

Now the understanding here is simple enough. Paul is saying the sufferings in-total that you are facing Christian, big as they seem to be, are in their total value worth far less than the glory that is ahead. In other words the thing we hope for as Christians is worth so much that if you could put a monetary value on the amount paid in suffering and the amount gained by the fulfillment of this hope you would come out saying “what a deal!!”. Yet verse 17 tells us that these sufferings are in fact necessary, saying we are children of God “IF indeed we suffer with Him”. This suffering is meant to do something necessary. That necessity thing is described a few verses later:

Groaning

For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. – Romans 8:19

For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also, we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. – Romans 8:22-23

The creation is groaning and interestingly it is groaning to see the glorified and completed forms of us! Creation longs for humanity who are its rightful heirs to be GOOD. Yet we are not and are often satisfied with it. So, in part suffering causes us to be shocked into seeing our real states so we can have this groaning within ourselves v.23 talks about. We are meant to groan to be like Christ, to long for it. To work with all diligence toward becoming Christ like, yet we often settle. “We are too busy” for this, “we couldn’t possibly” do that. “God’s word can’t be more a part of our lives, no we can’t find time”. “Helping others is too much to ask, how about we give when we feel like it to those that take on the dirty work.” “Sharing our faith is too humiliating” etc. When we are willing to sit with this longin God’s Spirit helps make up the gap between us and godliness. He does this by expressing our heart this groaning and longing in a right way even when we don’t know how to and drawing us toward God in prayer.

We don’t long enough and so we see such little fruit, yet God is even willing to use suffering in this world to push us so that our hearts would be right. The fact that all of creation will be redeemed one day but isn’t ought to spur us on to work toward righteousness: in pursuing God, at work, with our family, friends and even enemies.

The description of this new Creation in Revelation Ch 21 and 22 has been particularly helpful to me as I process my father in law (a believer) and my dog Charlie’s deaths:

God coming to the Earth

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away. -Revelation 21:1-4

God’s Restoral of the Earth

Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bondservants will serve Him; they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads.  And there will no longer be any night; and they ill not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever. – Revelation 22:1-5

 

Section 4: How Should We Then Live?

Now, section 4 is everyone’s favorite section and often quoted, but I hope you can see how it is most powerful when taken in its proper context.

Paul starts by describing the process we are going through:

First, we are predestined by God based on His wisdom. Then He chooses us as we decide to repent and turn to Christ. We are then justified before God; Jesus bore our payment for our sins through His death and makes us just or without wrong in front of God. Then we are sanctified/glorified or step by step made to be righteous in this world.

It’s as if Paul anticipates the uncomfortableness this produces. We need to always be longing for what we don’t have and yet being motivated to pursue it. So, he tells us three things about suffering and this longing process.

  1. God is working our good in suffering. (v. 28)
  2. God is conforming us into the image of Jesus through this process. (v. 29)
  3. Nothing can separate you from Jesus’ love (v. 35-39)

 

Conclusions

God is working our good through suffering and God’s plan is more than just some mystical heaven. God is going to restore all of creation, and we MUST have a key role in that. All the work done to better this world is not in vain. It DOES means that loved ones in Christ are in heaven with Him now, but more than that it means they will be resurrected one day (a topic I hope to get into more in depth in a future post).  It also means that your memories with loved ones lost are not just gone, the places you walked with that loved one will one day be restored to God’s intention for them. We can confidently pursue God and work in the world because this same world will be here into eternity with one major change GOD will be with us and live among us. He will restore every single broken thing and remove every curse. What a wonderful and amazing hope. What an amazing journey we are on.

 

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