Suffering and Glory
In this sermon by Simon Ponsonby. Ponsonby talks about the subject of suffering and glory. He asks such questions as "Why is it that sometimes evil triumphs and goodness is suppressed?" and "Why does a God who is all-loving and all-powerful permit suffering and not intervene?"
The following notes from the talk were taken by the Bible Reflections team. Please use the comment box to add your own thoughts and reflections.
It’s a hard life - a song writer once said: "easier is getting harder everyday". You don't need to be a prophet to know that everyone feels pain and suffering. Pain in relationships, in career, in finances, in health.
When we follow Jesus things will get difficult.
Bonhoeffer said: "when Jesus calls a man he bids him come and die"
Everywhere you look there is suffering
We protest - "it is wrong" and we need to be honest about how we feel:
Why is it that sometimes evil does triumph and goodness is suppressed?
It's hard to understand, nearly impossible to get.
Why does a God who is all-loving and all-powerful permit suffering and not intervene?
We must hold onto the fact that God has suffered with us, and God has suffered for us, and God has suffered the suffering of His Son.
God in Christ knows and understands our suffering - that sense of "My God why have you forsaken me?"
At the cross God has acted and God will act again, and He promises that one day He will put things right - He will wipe away every tear and drive away every fear and restore the wounded years for all those who look to Him.
He will have the last word, and it will be a good word, but in the mean time, many of us suffer.
Scripture talks about it as a groaning - the groaning of life.
God's children suffer -"If you are heirs of God then you share in His sufferings"
Many will give up under pressure - when persecutions and trials and afflictions come - they say "I didn't expect that...I am an heir of God, I shouldn't suffer". But Jesus warned us in advance that things were going to get tough, Divinity is no stranger to suffering. Sonship with God goes hand-in-hand with suffering. Being a christian doesn't exempt you from suffering, it qualifies you to participate in it.
Sometimes when we go through it we think "Have I done something wrong, is this some kind of demonic assault upon me?" Sometimes when we suffer it is not a result of doing something wrong, it is a result of doing something right. Heirs of God, co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer.
Suffering is not unique to being a christian, it is generic to humanity
Nietzsche said: "As deeply as someone looks into life, he looks into suffering"
What is the mark of human existence? It is suffering.
"The groaning of creation" in which we inhabit. There is natural suffering in the world that we find ourselves in - earthquakes, famines, droughts, ecological crisis.
There is Man-made suffering - caused by human against human - the wickedness of mankind - abuse and greed, war, violence, theft, wickedness, slavery.
Particular suffering associated to being a christian - overt and direct persecution because of faith. There is still martyrdom across this world. Jesus said "When I call a man, I bid him come and die".
Do you think everything will be fantastic if we follow Jesus? In all bar 30 of the world's 200 countries christians are being persecuted.
Then we have the devil - who hates us: for two reasons. 1. because we remind the demonic of God (we are made in His likeness) 2. we are the objects of the affections of God.
We the redeem who live by the spirit are afflicted by a spiritual affliction.
How do we respond to this suffering?
The Buddhists response to suffering - say suffering is an illusion, that liberation comes by enlightenment and a response to that enlightenment is a build up of Karma, and as you go through the cycles of life this Karma builds up and you move from one state to another.
The Buddhist say suffering is an illusion - but it is doesn't feel like it, does it? How do you tell someone in the middle of suffering that it is an illusion? Do you say to the single person who wants to be married that it is an illusion or to the married couple who want to have children but can't that it is an illusion? To the person who has just been told they have cancer that it is an illusion?
Marxist response to suffering - the majority of the suffering is cause by the oppression of the poor by the rich, that the few rich oppress the majority of the poor. Marx said that we should deal with the root cause of suffering on earth (not hoping in heaven) - he said that we should develop a whole new economic system and that we should remove the abusers of power and privilege and distribute more equitably. And in doing so, whilst trying to balance the scales, in order to remove suffering, what Stalin did was to develop a system that killed millions and only caused greater suffering. It didn't work. Why? because creation is fallen.
Atheist/evolutionists response to suffering - suffering is just a mechanism for progress - in godlessness atheistic evolution the system is built on success - in the suffering the strong survive. "There is nothing kind in evolution". they say: "If there was a God reigning over creation, it would be hard to imagine him with a kind face, because the world is not kind"
What are we going to do with that - are those the only options? or is there another way to greater understand suffering?
Unlike the Buddhists, God does not claim that suffering is an illusion that can be escaped by personal enlightenment. God himself in Christianity suffers with us.
Unlike Marxism, the violent revelation is one that God invites upon Himself at Golgotha.
Unlike Atheism evolution, that says there is no kindness in the universe. In Christ Jesus we see there is a God at the heart of the universe. There is a divine heart that beats at the heart of the universe for us.
The belief of Christianity - "At the end all suffering will end". Jesus is coming back to put things right, but meanwhile there is suffering. We live in a world that is creaking and groaning under the weight of suffering and we hurt with it, even Christians.
Real Nails went through Real hands with Real cries when Christ died at the cross.
We need to face up to the fact that the world hurts and we are in the world and while we are in it we hurt.
v.22/23/26 - three times the passage says the word sigh - this means narrow, constricted, squeezed and breathlessness noise - and when words fail all you can do is sigh.
v. 22 - All creation groans. "Even trees do not die without a groan" - everything is hurting - the whole of creation groans and it longs for the day when it is going to be re-created. It is longing for the day when Christ returns and the whole of creation is going to be renewed.
v.23 - We who have the spirit groan. In pain. Some think that if we have the Spirit it will be alright, but more of the spirit means more of the enemy targeting you, more of the spirit means you suffer more with Christ. You want more of the Spirit? Possession of the spirit does not end groaning.
More of the spirit means you are more attentive to other people's suffering because God gives us more of His heart and we groan because he groans, and out of that comes intercession and action. We who live by the Spirit see the world as it is, and we see the world as it should be when Christ returns, and we try to meet Jesus coming from the future, here in the present, driving it forward, changing, we want to echo in time what we see coming from eternity.
Carl Marx - "religion is the cry of the oppressed" . He didn't believe that God heard it or cared.
Christianity is the cry of the oppressed - we understand suffering and we want to do something about suffering, and God does care.
We who have the spirit groan because we are in a creation that is groaning.
V.26 - The Spirit Himself intercedes with groans too deep for words. The very Spirit of God inside of us is groaning - in us and through us and turning those groans into action. The Spirit is not divorced from suffering. He is interceding for us and helping us and He is also groaning. God groans, He feels, He understands. Even the Spirit is saying Maranatha "Come Lord Jesus".
Where is Your God? He not only cares, He is in the middle of our suffering.
The will come a day when suffering and sorrow will disappear.
The word glory means two things - 1. Weight, 2. Shine
Suffering does not have the last word, Glory does.
In heaven there will be no more sighing, it will just be glory.
The bible says that on the mount of transfiguration Jesus shone whiter than white - he was shining with glory.
Glory is God's magnificence and splendour. Glory is a word that defines God. The text says that we will be glorified. Glory is a divine word - how can we therefore be glorified? It means that God wraps himself around us so that we can be glorified. That is part of what it means to be an heir. We are wrapped in His glory.
If words run out with suffering, words run out with Glory. Glory is a "wow" word.
People are longing for glory - for wow moments. And they look in all sorts of places for it - some good, some not so good. People are looking for "wow" moments - why? Because they are looking for God.
In creation we were clothed in glory, but when we sinned we lost our glory - "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God". How did Adam and Eve know they were naked? They lost their glory and they just tried to sew up leaves. Most people's achievements are just fig leaves.
For those who are in Christ Jesus, the glory will far outweigh the suffering. Twice it mentions suffering. Three times it mentions sighing and four times it mentions shining. Suffering and sighing will fade away in heaven - there will be no memory of it, because the glory will shine so brightly.
What does it mean to be a Christian? How do I become a Christian? Becoming a Christian is very simple, you just say "Yes" to God. And when we say "yes" to God, we are given a new spirit and new life.
When we sign up to God we sign up for glory.