SOME time ago, I was called to a hospital where a young member of my church had just passed away unexpectedly. In a room filled with grieving family members and friends, I prayed for peace and comfort.
But outside in the corridor, I was approached by one of the friends, a member of another Methodist church. “Do you know my Pastor so-and-so?” was the question asked, naming a well-known senior Methodist pastor. Of course I knew his pastor.
“Well, if Pastor so-and-so had been here,” this person proudly claimed, “he would have prayed for resurrection!”
My jaw dropped open. “Did you feel the Holy Spirit prompting you that He was going to raise the dead here?” I probed, “because I didn’t.”
The friend said no.
I tried to explain that everybody dies and our hope is in the resurrection when Jesus returns.
This person was not convinced. “Pastor so-and-so would still have prayed for resurrection here tonight!”
Although I was very happy to see such confidence in a fellow minister, I wondered what lay behind this person’s thinking.
I may be wrong, but could it be part of the fear of suffering some Christians have? Too many people have bought into the “health and wealth” doctrine. They believe that God wants to bless them physically and materially, and that all good Christians are blessed by God. If you suffer, either you must have done something bad, or it is an opportunity for a miraculous healing. Suffering is a bad thing. Suffering is not of or from God. A good Christian is free from suffering.
Let me say first off I believe God miraculously heals, having experienced it both in my family as well as personally. I will say it again happily: God healed me wonderfully twice. I do pray for healing.
But is it not a vital teaching of the church that God’s power is perfected in weakness? Does the Bible not say that those close to God do suffer?
In the Book of Job, a blameless man really suffers badly. He is specifically described as blameless, upright, God-fearing and turned from evil. Job did nothing wrong, but he lost his whole family, his wealth and his health. What did he do wrong that he had to suffer?
In 2 Corinthians, the apostle Paul complained of a thorn in his flesh, a messenger of Satan, perhaps some physical malady. In chapter 12, we read of Paul praying to God three times that this thorn be removed. Paul knows that this thorn was given to him primarily to prevent him from “exalting himself” and giving himself too much credit. In other words, the thorn was given to Paul as a result of him doing great things for God.
‘The belief that good Christians do not suffer is attractive and comforting, but sadly not biblical. An easy life free from pain and suffering may mean you are doing nothing for God and that the devil doesn’t have to bother with you.’
But in verses 9 and 10, Paul cheerfully writes, And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
Here we have an apostle zealous for the Lord. But he doesn’t lead a “good” life. He is not free from pain and suffering.
Earlier in chapter 11 of 2 Corinthians, Paul lists the suffering he has had to endure: many imprisonments, numerous beatings, often near death, flogged five times with 39 lashes, beaten with rods three times, stoned once, shipwrecked three times. Paul says he is in danger from robbers, from his own countrymen, Gentiles, in danger in the city and in the wilderness, in danger on the sea and among false brethren. He notes that he has been in hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, in cold and exposure.
That is the life of a good Christian. It can be a life of suffering: suffering inflicted by this imperfect world, suffering because of your work for God, and suffering to prevent you from exalting yourself. People close to God do suffer.
If you go through the Bible, you will see many examples of righteous men suffering for their faith and for God. Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Micah, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, James, Peter, Paul, Silas, just to name 10. And of course there is the example of Jesus.
Most Christians know that with good fortune and perfect health, we tend to forget about God. We are happy enjoying life. Only when disaster strikes do people turn to Him. We pray the most when we need something.
It is when we suffer that we turn to God for strength, when we pray more, when we learn to depend only on God. Peter says in 1 Peter that if we suffer for the sake of righteousness, we are blessed. He reassures those who “suffer according to the will of God” that we shall “entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right”. It can be the will of God for you to suffer.
The belief that good Christians do not suffer is attractive and comforting, but sadly not biblical. An easy life free from pain and suffering may mean you are doing nothing for God and that the devil doesn’t have to bother with you.
Is that the kind of life you are living?
The Rev Chiang Ming Shun, a member of the Methodist Message Editorial Board, is the Pastor at Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.