Monday, December 17, 2012

Six Insights Into Human Suffering

Sculptor Esther Augsburger's "Job"
Even our faith offers no easy answer to the question of why unspeakably terrible things happen to people like those whose loved ones were killed at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. We are only left with the assurance that God remains ever present, loves us deeply and suffers our pain with us.

Here is one of my favorite texts on this theme, from chapter 8 of Paul's letter to the Romans, to which I have added only the six headings below:

Suffering is a sign of our adoption into God’s suffering family

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.  For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.  When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ--if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

Suffering is a sign of our identification with a suffering creation

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subject to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 

Suffering represents the labor pains of the new creation about to be born

We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved.  Now hope that is seen is not hope, for who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Our suffering moves God’s Spirit to intercede powerfully on our behalf

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart,  knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

In the experience of suffering God transforms our grief into growth

We know that in all things God works for good for those who love God, who are called according to God’s purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

No suffering can ever separate us from God’s love and grace

What then shall we say about these things?  If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for us all, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect?  It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn?  It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ?  Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written; For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
                                                        - Romans 8:14-39 NRSV

For a perspective on a similar tragedy see

To view more of Esther Augsburger's work see
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