Comfort and hope

Suffering hits like a bag of bricks. One moment life is normal, the next your whole world is falling apart. Last week two planes crashed into each other mid-air in Alaska, with at least 5 killed, including one Australian. Now families are left in anguish, having lost loved ones.

Death and sickness are, of course, only some of the suffering we can experience through our lives. And, so often, our feelings tell us that no one cares. There’s no purpose or hope.

Our feelings, however, couldn’t be more wrong. There is someone who cares and offers hope through our experiences.

‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God’ (2 Cor 1:3-4).

God does not stand aloof at our sufferings. He cares. He comforts. He provides – moments to grieve, necessities of food and drink, people to put their arms around us, his Word of hope, a listening ear. He is the Father of all mercies and the God of all comfort. He never abandons his children in their suffering.

And in all this, he prepares us to comfort others. Each moment of suffering shapes us to be more like Christ, who is gentle with the sufferer (‘A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench’Isaiah 42:3).

We call all put our arm around a sufferer and encourage them to hold on to Jesus. But how much more precious are the arms which have been where we are and held on to Christ themselves? Your suffering is not without purpose.

Taking up our Cross

Israel Folau has again made news for expressing views on sexuality that go against the prevailing views of four culture. He dared to express that homosexuality was sinful, it would bring judgement, and salvation could be found in Christ. In other words, he dared to state what the Bible says, and what has been the view of Christians for 2000 years.

How should we as a church respond to this? We can recognise the hypocrisy of a culture that speaks so much about tolerance yet refuses to tolerate those with views that differ on sexuality to the cultural norm. We remember Jesus’ promise/warning that ‘if they persecuted me they will also persecute you’ (John 15:20).

And we also remember what Jesus calls us to do as his disciples. Just after Peter had identified him as the Christ, and then declared his mission (that he would suffer, die and then rise), he gave some of the most challenging words in the Bible.

‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?’ (Mark 8:34-37).

Christ paid the ultimate price for our salvation. Folau is now paying the price for his refusal to go along with the world, and instead cling to God’s Word. What price are we willing to pay?

Are we willing to let people think we are strange because we keep speaking of Jesus? To be thought of as bigots? To be considered strange because we are willing to speak the truth and don’t hide behind lies?

Are we willing to suffer?

Trusting while hated

The world has always hated God’s people, because they have always hated God. That might sound overly brash but consider the words of Jesus: ‘If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you’ (John 15:18). Jesus is the showcase of the world’s hatred – he is the God-Man.

But hatred of God and his people didn’t begin with Jesus. There was a long pedigree of hatred. Jesus himself recognised this in the parable of the wicked tenants (Luke 20:9-18), and we can trace it back to God’s Word to the serpent in Gen 3:15 (‘I will put enmity between … [the serpent’s] offspring and [the woman’s] offspring.’)

Cain (of the serpent) killed Abel (of the woman). And on it goes through biblical history – Pharaoh and Israel, Goliath and David, Haman and Mordechai. The hatred the world shows towards God’s people is nothing new.

We shouldn’t be surprised when the world continues to show its hatred towards us and God. In some places and people it is easily recognisable. Violence, arrests, verbal abuse and blatant contempt are regular occurrences. In other places and people it is much more subtle. Hatred shows itself in polite rejection of the gospel and ‘logical’ arguments against God’s claims to decide morality (consider Rom 1:30).

This may feel overwhelming. How should we respond? We could point to any number of godly reactions, and condemn ungodly reactions. David points us to one godly reaction in Psalm 52:8. ‘I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever.’

Will you continue to trust God when trouble from the world comes? He loves you and has shown that supremely at the cross. His love will never fail. Hold on to him.

Rejection and Acceptance

‘Am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ (Gal 1:10).

Have you experienced the heartache of rejection because of Christ? Being a Christian does not solve all your problems. For many, it makes things harder. There is a cost, and Jesus himself says we are to count the cost just like someone wanting to build a tower or a king going to war (Luke 14:28-33).

This rejection can come from all sides. It can come from friends and family who do not know Christ. They may reject you and your message, or simply dismiss you as a fool for believing. It comes from strangers, even the wider culture which rejects anyone who does not bow down to the modern morality (or, more precisely, modern a-morality).

Rejection can even come from fellow believers. Because you disagree about how to interpret various portions of the Bible, because you have a different understanding of various topics to them, you’re looked down upon. Either you’re too close-minded, or too open-minded.

This can cause great pain – though we need to be realistic and remember how much easier we have it than others around the world! But we count the cost, and we should come to the belief that it is worth the cost to follow Jesus. It is worth the pain of rejection and heartache because of what we get at the end. Not only does Jesus promise great blessings to those who suffer and lose so much for his sake and the gospel’s (Mark 10:29-31), but we get God himself. We live for his approval, not man’s. The truth is simple: the cost is worth it. Keep going.

Not worth comparing

‘For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us’ (Rom 8:18).

This is an audacious verse. Can you imagine being as bold as Paul is with these words? Paul stacks up all the sufferings of this life – the sufferings of persecution, sickness, famine, war, oppression and poverty – and he decides that stacked up next to the future glory that waits for us, there is no point in comparing them. The glory so far outshines our misery that it would be futile to compare them.

Can you imagine seriously trying to compare the speed of Usain Bolt and a toddler just learning to walk? Or comparing the size of a flee to an elephant? It would be pointless, ridiculous, odd. That’s what Paul is expressing with this non-comparison.

We all know the pain of suffering. We’ve all experienced loss, sickness, heartache – and if you haven’t, that means you haven’t lived long enough. Sometimes the pain is sharp and intense, at other times it’s dull and constant.

But the glory that is to be revealed in us is so great and wondrous that these sufferings all pale into nothingness. Can you believe it? Does it sound too much? So far-fetched that Paul must be exaggerating?

The pain of this life can be intense. Whether you’ve experienced the loss of a loved one, a serious illness, financial hardship, or any other suffering, let these words fill your heart with joy. As bad as things get here, it’s not worth comparing with what will be, if only we hold on to our trust in Jesus.

It’s beyond my imagination. How can this be real? Through all our suffering, let’s hold on to Jesus and find out!