Why the betrayals? Why must we go through outrageously painful heartbreak? Why do marriages explode and relationships with brothers and sisters in Christ turn from the sweet fellowship of our youth in Christ to painful arrows of accusations, recriminations, and acrimony? Why does God allow us to suffer so?
Yet, we have all read, “If so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.” And we all derived great joy thinking on that glorious day when we, the sons and daughters of God, would be a part of Christ’s cadre. We liked the “glory” part, but shuddered and ran away from the “suffering” part of the walk with Christ.
And when that ghostly knife came so swiftly at the hands of the ones that we loved the most, when it stabbed deep into our hearts, we knew that the suffering in Christ does not come from the outside evil forces, but from the words and actions of a “friend.” And we knew that it would never be the same as we barely crossed over that burning bridge.
Many years have passed now, yet that old question stirs up in us, an itch that must be scratched, a reason must be mined out of the mountain of the past. Why must we suffer as a Christian?
The Need for God and the Suffering for Salvation
When all things are going great, we really have no need for God. It is only when things fall apart, initially through our own sins and shortcomings, that we need Him. When we finally come to the end of the road of sin, we realize that we need Him to save us.
“When God first desires to reveal himself to the unregenerate, he begins by allowing them to reap the consequences of their own actions. They wake up one day and find themselves face down in the gutter. The unregenerate are consumed with carnal, self-destructive desires. The consequences of their behavior are suffering, personal castigation, family censure, community shame, poverty, grief, loneliness, and possibly prison.
“While this suffering can be intense, it is not too bewildering, because the cause of the affliction is immediately apparent. Scales come off their eyes and they are allowed to see that their problems were generated from within themselves. They are suffering because they have done evil. Like the two thieves hanged with Jesus, those who suffer into Salvation recognize that their suffering was caused by their own sins…
“This first suffering establishes man’s initial relationship with God. It is called, “Salvation.” In the Salvation experience men receive the revelation of Jesus Christ and learn that their sins are unconditionally forgiven. They also discover that good excels evil as the heavens are higher than the earth. Through pain men learn that evil activities are unproductive. Their suffering is thus corrective and will teach them that God’s ways are best. It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes.
“After the Salvation experience, men will turn away from evil and seek after good. Then shall ye remember your own evil ways, and your doings that were not good, and shall loathe yourselves in your own sight for your iniquities and for your abominations. With this new revelation animating their lives, everything in their world is then categorized into either “evil” or “good.” Salvation is thus distinguished by tireless campaigns against evil, and continuous efforts for the acquisition of earthly wealth.
“In the Bible, Salvation is characterized as “hearing.” Those who have suffered into Salvation have had their ears opened to the word of God. He delivereth the poor in his affliction, and openeth their ears in oppression.
“This is the revelation that Moses received, along with the Ten Commandments. While Moses could “hear” the word of God, he was not allowed to see God’s face…Those who have attained Salvation only, can hear the word of God, but they do not yet see him as he is. They operate by hearing, and not by sight. So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
“Those who have found Salvation normally feel that they have obtained all there is from God, but this is not so. Salvation is only the first step in the unveiling of God. After suffering into the “hearing” of Salvation, you must then press on and complete an additional ordeal–suffering into the “seeing” of Sonship. He that hath an ear, let him hear.
Suffering for Sonship
“When you find Salvation, the “evil” in your life is struck down, or at least revealed for the malignancy that it is. But after the Salvation experience, God still leaves you deluded and dazzled by all the “good” things of earth. This earthly “good” still originates from the Tree of Good & Evil, and this is still the realm of spiritual death. Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.
“In his own time, God selects some for the second step in his revelation process. Adding to their loathing of “evil,” he will bring them also to a dissatisfaction with earthly “good.” As before, this second step will be instigated by suffering. But this time you will not suffer for any evil found in you. Rather, you will suffer for undeserved evil that comes against you. Let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.
“There is no permanent glory in suffering for your sins. God expects every Christian to put away evil and to do the right thing. Continued suffering for your sins is unacceptable to God. His lasting, permanent, and eternal blessings will be procured only by those who suffer with clean hands and a pure heart. For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.
“There is a “righteous suffering” that occurs when God brings evil against “good” people. Those who have attained Salvation and are doing the right thing are candidates for this suffering. Some of them will be selected by the divine wisdom of God to endure grievous affliction. An upright life that is lived for God will qualify some mortals to suffer bewildering trials, and by them, to be ushered into a new relationship with God. For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing.
“Even your “good” desires, worship, and works, are yet carnal. Your concepts of God arise in part from the carnality that is still within you. These present ideas are minuscule, inconsequential, and incomplete, when compared with the true goal that God has in mind. God will therefore dismantle them all, before he allows you to eat from the Tree of Life.
“This operation begins as an intense situation of unwarranted and confusing evil against you. You will be subjected to agony, through no fault of your own. Your “good” will be evil spoken of. Your upright works will be slandered, your character profaned. Your body will turn against you. You will be rejected of men and cursed by those you love.
“As you traverse this experience you will find it an intense and enduring battle, where Life engages Death. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. You will begin to seek God with an intensity not found amongst mortals. When your heart is broken by God himself, you will draw close unto him. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.
“With the one, huge, staggering question of “Why?” you will seek out God in search of an answer. The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous. This is where Overcomers are born, and those who are successful will be ushered in to the presence of God. Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.
“After you have been through this second step, this “Sonship” process, you will have suffered the destruction of both “evil” and “good.” Your human pride will have been profaned. Your earthly desires will have been reduced to nothing. Your carnality will have been systematically destroyed.
“Then you will find a new revelation of God. You will learn of his absolute sovereignty. You will learn to see him in darkness and affliction. But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled.
“With this new revelation you will begin to eat from a different tree. No longer will you divide your world into “good” and “evil.” Instead, all things will begin to appear only as a sequence of events that emanate from the throne of God to accomplish his purpose. With this new understanding you will leave the Tree of Good & Evil entirely, and begin to eat for the first time, from the Tree of Life. He that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.
“This new relationship to God is called “Sonship.” Sonship does not merely teach you about God. Rather, it makes you like him. Through this process, agape-love will be born within you and forgiveness will flow from you. The Sons of God are not created beings. They are the spirits of men, begotten from the spirit of God.
“Sonship is based on “seeing,” for the Sons of God will not operate by faith, but by sight. As you come through a suffering that seems futile and senseless, you will begin to see into the spirit realm. I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear, and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. You will begin to look beyond earthly circumstance and see that every event that has touched your life has occurred at the direction of God. I know, O LORD, that thy judgments are right, and that thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me.
“When your eyes are opened to see God in every earthly event, then he can no longer hide from you. When he can no longer hide from you, you will have become what he is. But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image.
“Suffering is the process that produces the perfection of Sonship. This path leads from evil, to good, and eventually unto life. When you suffer for sin “in you,” God destroys your addiction to “evil.” When you suffer for sin “against you,” God slays your addiction to “good.” By these your carnal mind is eradicated and the Tree of Good & Evil vacated. Only then can you eat from the Tree of Life. For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.’’
[The preceding passage is from Chapter 13, “Suffering,” from Garrison Russell’s book SonPlacing. It has helped me so much to understand what happened those many years ago during our youthful days at the mission. The book is online, found here: http://www.sonplace.com/sonplacing/sp_chp13.htm I plan to share more of it soon.]