Sunday, March 7, 2010

Face Suffering with Humility

Third Sunday in Lent
Perpetua and Felicitas, Martyrs
March 7, 2010
Luke 13:1-9

When is a bad thing a good thing? The answer is when God gets involved. We should give thanks that He does. Because that’s the complaint, isn’t it? That’s the question we all have, isn’t it? Where is God? Why doesn’t He get involved when the horrifying earthquake hits Haiti or Chile? Why does He allow me to suffer when I do? Why is He not preventing the cancer from spreading in my body? Why has He allowed my child to be taken away from me rather than to be able to live a long and fulfilling life?

We often stand speechless before terrifying natural disasters that claim life and a peaceful comfortable life. We often wonder what God is telling us or where He is at all when we endure suffering in our personal lives.

We look at suffering, whether it is that of others or what we ourselves endure, as a bad thing. And that’s not entirely wrong. When God created the universe there was no suffering. There was no sin, no evil. But the Fall into sin changed all that. From the Fall proceeded more sin, death, and suffering. Suffering isn’t supposed to be part of this world and we know it. But neither is our sin. And yet we continue to sin.

This is the point Jesus wishes to make. We come to the question of suffering from an arrogant standpoint. Why should we have to suffer? But Jesus takes an entirely different approach. His approach to suffering is humility. We should not question why we suffer so much as we should marvel that though we deserve worse God spares us from it. We should not question God in the midst of suffering so much as we should humble ourselves before Him and thank Him for His mercy to us.

Because Jesus doesn’t do the kind of thing where if you suffer it’s because, frankly, you deserve it. No, that’s what we do. If that person we don’t like goes through the mill, well, he got what was coming to him. Or we pity the person who is a good person because no one deserves to suffer in the way they have.

All of this is arrogance. Nowhere in here is humility and a realization that we don’t even deserve to be here being able to talk about this stuff. We simply deserve hell. By rights we should be eternally separated from God Almighty.

Our Lord, however, has abiding humility. He steps aside from His glory to make known to us our plight. He calls us to repentance. He warns us so that we do not in fact end up in hell forever.

Hell doesn’t seem as real to us as people who are murdered in their place of worship and their blood mixed with their sacrifices. Eternal damnation doesn’t appear as relevant as a tower falling on people who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. Being separated from God doesn’t seem as pressing a matter as a powerful earthquake that strikes a third world country and causes untold devastation and agony. Never being in the eternal glory of heaven seems a distant concern when we’re facing the news that the cancer is progressing rapidly and that nothing can be done but wait.

The problem isn’t really that we’re arrogant. We don’t stroll into this discussion, and into our facing of suffering, with an arrogant mindset. No, the problem is that we are simply turned in on ourselves. The problem is that our sinful nature is so tightly wrapped around our lives that we can’t see things any other way than the way we do; which is that we have to know why this is happening to us. Why it has to happen to all those poor innocent people in those third world countries. This is arrogance even though we don’t intend it to be so. It is arrogance simply because it is not humility.

Our first reaction is not to repent. Who are we kidding, our second reaction isn’t even to repent. Do we even ever come to the point where in our suffering or in observing that of others that we simply repent? That we see that there is far worse for us to be concerned about than anything we endure in this life? That there is a far greater concern we have than anything we face here on earth?

Repentance puts a whole new perspective on suffering. It allows us to face suffering with humility. Repentance and humility in no way make enduring suffering easier. They certainly don’t minimize suffering.

What they do is help us see suffering the way God does. What they do is help us face suffering the way God does.

And what is that way? It is the way of seeing Christ in the midst of suffering. It is the way of looking to Jesus and His suffering on the cross. It is the way in which we see that humility is the only way to truly endure suffering because then you are not consumed with yourself but rather what God would have for you. Rather than questioning and wondering and agonizing, to be at peace knowing that God can do much more for you and through you through suffering than if you breezed through life with no thought of Him or the glory He has prepared for you eternally.

In humility we see suffering through new eyes. Instead of wondering where God is we see Him more clearly than ever. Instead of questioning His love and care we know more powerfully than ever that His love and care are never greater than when we are suffering. Your physical eyes will never see this. They will only see pain and turmoil and plainly a God who is not powerful or loving enough to keep you from suffering. Your sinful flesh will never see this because it will only see itself and how you deserve better from God than the suffering you endure.

But that is why Jesus faces suffering with humility and calls upon us to do so. It is only in humility that we can see Him in suffering. He is who we need to see. He is our only hope in suffering. It is only in looking to the cross that we can see our need for repentance when we are at our weakest. When we are most in pain and despondent. Why do we think we are going through anything we don’t deserve? Why are we so arrogant as to think that God does not care or doesn’t understand? Jesus endured suffering on the cross beyond what we can imagine or even describe.

It wasn’t simply physical pain and torture He endured. He suffered what we deserve. Our sins were laid on Him. He was inflicted with our guilt. He was hit with the holy wrath against sinners. He suffered in our place. Nothing compares with that. No suffering. No love. No thing can come between that kind of love and us. Not suffering. Not our sin. Not our guilt. Not even our arrogance at continuing to question God when we face suffering.

So face it with humility. Tell Him what you feel, there’s nothing that says you have to hold it all in. But be humble. Accept that He’s God and you’re not. Thank Him that He’s God and you’re not. Thank Him that when it comes to suffering He knows quite a bit more about it than you do because He endured quite a bit more of it than you could ever imagine.

Then ask Him to get you through. You know you can’t. He knows you can’t either. That’s why He sent His Son. That’s why Christ went to the cross. That’s why you are Baptized. You may suffer, but you are forever Baptized. Forever God’s own child and heir. Forever His son or daughter. Forever in His care. It’s why you partake of the Body of Christ that was delivered up on the cross. Why you drink of the Blood of Christ that was shed on the cross for the forgiveness of all of your sins. Why in true joy you can daily repent and receive the eternal Absolution of all of your sins. Why even in suffering you can give thanks that God would love you in such a way as not to let you breeze through life where you would be content with yourself and your easy life and your sinful flesh. Why in suffering you have the opportunity to see what He sees: yourself, a sinner who needs to repent and yet emerges stronger through the trials.

Just think about what tremendous help you can be to others who are facing suffering only with their own arrogance and sin and guilt and questioning of God. Just think about what opportunities you have to rejoice when you see that God has blessings that are so far beyond comparison to any suffering you endure. Just think of what you see in suffering that you otherwise would not have seen: that Christ has gone before you to endure what you can never imagine, that He goes with you as you face the trials and struggles of life, and goes beyond what you can see to have prepared a place for you in the eternal peace and joy of heaven. Amen.


No comments: