BY EVAN WELCHER
The following is an excerpt from Evan's new book Resplendent Bride: Essays on Love & Loss
See that look? The hunted, haunted kind? You see it in the eyes of the Fellowship Of The Suffering. They need to hear good news. They need to hear gospel. What do you tell the person who is suffering through pain and trial?
We want to tell people that suffering is transactional, a trade off, if you will, for closeness with God Himself.
We stand around at funerals and shake our heads and say things like, “I just don’t know how non Christians get through times like these.”
Well, some of you do.
I imagine non-Christians sit around feeling sad and cry a lot, just like we do.
What is said and what is meant are two different species of truth.
What is meant: God is always with you. God is working evil out for good. He is near to the broken hearted and crushed in spirit. Having everything stripped away from you and hitting rock bottom is an excellent opportunity to think about He who really matters when all the distracting fluff and joviality evaporates. He will show you the wonders and depths of His mercies.
If you let Him.
If you want Him to.
If you see it that way.
Does everyone who suffers deeply grow closer to God?
No. Not at all.
For surely the tragedy of the Christian life is that God is always teaching us this or that and we are always missing His kind lessons.
All these myths of explosive spiritual growth in the wake of suffering have turned us into masochists.
Sometimes people come out of a protracted period of suffering stronger than ever. Sometimes people come out of a protracted period of suffering bent over and mangled, forever scarred, and fighting for one clean breath.
There are no guarantees. It is not formulaic. Suffering does not automatically equal spirituality. I believe turning our eyes from this ever-burning world to the Lord Jesus is always the best option, but we often choose to be stubborn. I know from the Scriptures there is purpose in it all. I do not know if there is always sanctification in it all. Many a man has turned in on himself and drank bitterness like poison in the aftermath and carnage of tragedy.
I’ve sat in too many prayer meetings with Pastors sitting around wishing for persecution of the American Church for the purpose of “growth”.
Postulating Church growth through persecution.
Phrases like, “It’d be the best thing that ever happened to us.”
Words like, “China”.
And of course, “Africa.”
Names like “Nero”.
Suffering is a gift from God if He gives it. So is peace.
If I had my way I would spare you all of this suffering, because you can still be a good Christian without it. That’s what matters.
The Apostle Paul writes,
“and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.” ~ 1st Thessalonians 4:11-12 (NASB)
Now, leading a quiet life, attending your own business, and working with your hands by no means precludes suffering. But is sure does sound idyllic, doesn’t it?
Certainly, if you simply lead your life, mind your business, work your job, care for your people, serve God through your local Church, you can attain godliness through the gift of the good work God began in you, without an inordinate amount of extra suffering.
C.S. Lewis wrote,
"I know now Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice?"
There comes a point when you realize you have more loved ones in heaven than on earth. Slowly heaven feels more like home, just as it was always supposed to. Where your treasure is there your heart will be also, or rather that which your heart loves is your treasure. Your priceless Christ is there preparing a place for you in your Father’s house, and your priceless loved ones are already residing there. You look at your house and realize the fence is falling down, and the storm windows are broken. Eternity stretches on before you, and it’s not as scary as it once seemed. For the first time in ages you awake...
Evan Welcher is senior pastor of First Christian Church in Glenwood, Iowa. He graduated with a B.S. in Biblical studies from Emmaus Bible College in 2005. Evan’s goal in ministry is to stir up love for Jesus Christ by the giving of great care and fidelity to the teaching of the scriptures.