Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Waiting with Hope

Yesterday I reflected on how we might think Christologically about our suffering. Jesus united with our suffering and we unite with his. We become one and together endure the suffering. We share the fellowship of his suffering just as he shared ours. Thus, through suffering we are one with Christ. It is journey through suffering together as he pioneers a path out of the suffering and into glory. Our suffering, then, is never meaningless --though it is often and sometimes impossible to find any specific, particular meaning-- in the sense that is shared suffering with Christ on the journey to glory.

I find great comfort in my identification with Jesus in suffering. I don't want to distant him from my suffering when he came to suffer with me. And I don't want to distance his suffering from myself as I want to experience Christ, both in the fellowship of his suffering and the power of his resurrection.

Another source of comfort in suffering--and part of the perfecting that takes place within suffering--is pneumatological. The presence and function of the Holy Spirit provides the real ground of comfort and hope in our present endurance and groaning. There are several dimensions of this "Spiritual comfort" as I see it.

1. Presence. God has poured out his love into our hearts in the person of the Spirit. Romans 5:3-5. We boast in our sufferings because it produces character and character produces hope. But this is only because God's love is present in us through the poured-out Spirit. We experience the love of God by the Spirit.

2. Groaning. The Spirit groans with us. Romans 8:26-27. Our groanings in the midst of suffering are neither irreverent nor improper. The Spirit validates our groaning by groaning with us. He groans alongside of us and for us. He speaks words we cannot express and connects us with God in ways that are beyond human words. When I groan, God groans with me.

3. Hope. The Spirit gives hope to our hearts. Romans 8:24-25; Romans 15:13. Here it is easy to "water down" hope as some sort of "future longing," "wishful thinking," or "pie in the sky kind of expectation." However, this hope is both a present reality (and thus comfort) as well as a future expectation. This hope is the presence of the future in our hearts. By the power for the Spirit, the God of hope fills our hearts with comfort and joy. Authentic hope is living in the present as if the future has already arrived. It is the certain joy of the future.

Comfort in the midst of suffering is not achieved by human psychology or by "getting hold of ourselves." Authentic comfort--a comfort that is abiding, eternal and empowering--is a gift of God by the power of the Spirit. The community of God might be the instrument by which God gives this peace, and thus the community is extremely important in partnering with God in this comforting, but the comfort, I think, is a direct experience/encounter with God that yields peace, joy and contentment.

It is not a momentary or instanteous event. It is a journey, a process. It involves community. It involves spiritual disciplines. It involves communal worship and private time with God. But it is ultimately God's act. God gives comfort; we don't comfort ourselves.

A theology of suffering should reflect on the triune character of God's involvement with our lives. The Father created us, loves us, and pursues us. The Son suffers with us and for us. The Spirit lives within us to comfort and engender hope. The Triune God will reverse the curse of the fall, put an end to all suffering and renew his earth for our embodied existence with the Father, Son and Spirit in a fellowship of shalom and joy.

5 Comments:

At 11:25 AM, Blogger john alan turner said...

I think it was Beuchner who said that the final straw in his conversion came over the topic of suffering. His choice was down to either Christianity or Buddhism, and he kept seeing a smiling Buddha vs. Jesus on the Cross.

A religion that serenely smiles and says, "It's nothing. It's not real." That's not something I can sink my teeth into.

A God who enters into and takes upon himself our suffering. That's a God I can trust no matter what.

 
At 11:46 AM, Blogger John Mark Hicks said...

Quite appropriate, John. Thanks.

And unfortunately classic theology has often underestimated the depth of this God's undertaking of suffering, and in popular conceptions dismissed the "suffering of God" as "oh, well, that is God." But to embrace the reality of a divine suffering that enters into our own suffer and suffers as us is to acknowledge the empathy of God with us. That is a rather unique theological conception that is part of the uniqueness of Christianity.

 
At 1:46 PM, Blogger Dee O'Neil Andrews said...

Today I understand what you were saying yesterday. What you have to say today is so uplifting to me because we all suffer in this life in so many different ways, don't you think?

But in each and every way, even in deeply emotional suffering and spiritual suffering, Jesus and the Father and the Spirit are, as you say, not only with us, but in us to comfort us.

I like the way you expressed in your comment that God has "empathy" with us. I had not thought about that being a unique theological concept. I'm with you and John Alan Turner - I treasure a God who not only empathizes, but who we can always "trust no matter what."

 
At 3:41 PM, Blogger Jeff Slater said...

Dr. Hicks --

I just wanted to comment and thank you for blogging. There is some great stuff here. I know I'll be coming back on a regular basis.

BTW: We are related (sort of). Your wife Jennifer is my cousin. I guess that makes you my cousin-in-law.

Jeff

 
At 4:45 PM, Blogger Keith Brenton said...

Just go with "brother," Jeff.

I'm sure glad this brother is sharing his wisdom online!

 

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