The Cruciform God: The Gospel of Suffering, Part 2

We’re continuing our study of Michael J. Gorman’s Inhabiting the Cruciform God. We are now well-beyond the book, but continuing to explore its implications.

I would like to offer two suggestions and to dismiss a third –

First, when I was much younger, some argued that the church isn’t suffering as the Bible says we should and so, therefore, we must be more audacious in our evangelism. We should be shouting Jesus from the rooftops! Of course, suffering for being annoying isn’t really the idea.

Second, Ray Vander Laan, in one of his videos, argued powerfully that our mistake is to ignore the plural. “We” share in his sufferings. “Our” sufferings. He reminds us of –

(1 Cor 12:26)  If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

In 1 Cor 12, Paul is describing the “body” of Christ — the church. When any of our people anywhere in the world suffers, we are supposed to suffer. But this isn’t imputed suffering. It’s not that I get credit for someone else’s suffering. Rather, because I’m a co-crucified person, when a brother or sister suffers, I feel their pain. It hurts me, too.

Of course, we’re just terrible at this. We live in an age when more people die for Jesus in a year than died for Jesus in the First Century. We have brothers and sisters all over the world being brutalized for the cause of Christ, and we turn our heads.

I’ve seen all good people turn their heads each day. “So satisfied I’m on my way.” …

Don’t surround yourself with yourself.

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Third, imagine a congregation that is so concerned with the mission of Christ that they pray for their persecuted brothers and sisters at every gathering; that holds up those who die and are maimed for the sake of Jesus as heroes to be emulated; that teaches its teens that missions isn’t so much about painting houses as putting your lives on the altar of Christ. How would the church change in a generation?

We don’t suffer with our persecuted brothers and sisters because we don’t want to feel their pain — and we sure don’t want our kids to get the crazy idea that they should leave the safety of our shores and suffer for the Christ. That would be, you see, more than we could suffer.

Indeed, we are far more likely to encourage our kids to join the military and risk life and limb for our country than to join the mission of Jesus and risk life and limb for our real country. Seriously. Count the number of kids in your congregation who’ve been to Iraq or Afghanistan in uniform and compare to the number of kids who’ve been to equally dangerous places because they were clothed with Christ.

I’m not a pacifist (with covered this already, and I’m not looking to re-start the conversation). I just wonder why it is that we consider military service honorable, despite the obvious risks, and yet fear to let our kids join the Lord’s army. Surely, it’s a better choice.

We don’t suffer because we’re too comfortable and content to leave the safety of our homes and go where the gospel is spreading the fastest — places where there’s real suffering.

http://www.persecutedchurch.org/

You see, in most congregations, we’ve so sanitized, homogenized, and pasteurized Christianity that suffering is a foreign concept. It’s about fixing the world so we — the church — don’t have to suffer and we can enjoy high property values. And so we feel no comraderie with our suffering brothers and sisters and we certainly don’t rejoice over suffering.

(1 Pet 2:20-21)  But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

Peter explains one way that sufferings produce hope –

(1 Pet 5:8-10)  Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. 10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.

It’s easier to resist temptation when you are aware of and sympathize with those suffering for Christ around the world. It helps us be less self-centered. It helps us see the mission as important when we know the price others are paying for it. It pushes us to rely on our hope — not our present comfort — and so push temptation away.

Now, I need to share a story from Stanley Hauerwas, found in his brilliant book, written with William H. Willimon, Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony (required reading). Hauerwas is a pacifist and a Methodist, and I am neither, but he makes a very important point –

Sometime ago, when the United States bombed military and civilian targets in Libya, a debate raged concerning the morality of that act. One of us witnessed an informal gathering of students who argued the morality of the bombing of Libya. Some thought it was immoral, others thought it was moral. At one point in the argument, one of the students turned and said, “Well, preacher, what do you think?

I said that, as a Christian, I could never support bombing, particularly bombing civilians, as an ethical act.

“That’s just what we expected you to say,” said another. “That’s typical of you Christians. Always on the high moral ground, aren’t you? You get so upset when a terrorist guns down a little girl in an airport, but when President Reagan tries to set things right, you get indignant when a few Libyans get hurt.”

The assumption seems to be that there are only two political options: Either conservative support of the administration, or liberal condemnation of the administration followed by efforts to let the U.N. handle it.

“You know, you have a point,” I said. “What would be a Christian response to this?” Then I answered, right off the top of my head, “A Christian response might be that tomorrow morning The United Methodist Church announces that it is sending a thousand missionaries to Libya. We have discovered that it is fertile field for the gospel. We know how to send missionaries. Here is at least a traditional Christian response.

Which of our Bible class teachers or preachers or elders would have answered the question in those terms? Who would have suggested — at a time when Libya was militantly anti-American — that the church’s way to deal with Libya’s bombing of a civilian plane in Lockerbie, Scotland, would be to send 1,000 missionaries? Would the suggestion have even come up in class?

Some would have argued for economic sanctions or harshly worded diplomatic communications or even more bombs. None would have said, “I’ll fix this. I’m going to Arabic school so I can bring Jesus to Libya!” And that should tell us all that we think very much like the world.

Indeed, Hauerwas goes on to make the point that there was a time in the history of the church that we routinely sent thousands of missionaries into pagan, anti-Christian territory, often to see most of them killed. But over the centuries, entire continents that were once pagan became Christian.

And yet the last time I got on Amazon.com to look for a book on the lives of great missionaries, I couldn’t find one. Not one.

But that was about 10 years ago. I just checked, and things have changed. There are actually several books available now. Most are for children. Have our children’s curriculums changed? Do we hold up great missionaries as heroes to our children?

Can you think of a better way than Hauerwas’s suggestion to teach the world about a God who was willing to die for people who hate him?

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9 Responses to The Cruciform God: The Gospel of Suffering, Part 2

  1. Mick Porter says:

    OK, hands down this is the coolest blog post I've seen in ages. I mean, it's one thing to post about vetiver grass in your Tending Eden thing, another thing to concurrently blog through books by both N.T. Wright and Michael J. Gorman, and the use of a Mark Driscoll video clip on a CoC blog was pretty cool – but to illustrate this post with a quote from "I've Seen All Good People" – way cool!

  2. nick gill says:

    I’m not a pacifist (with covered this already, and I’m not looking to re-start the conversation). I just wonder why it is that we consider military service honorable, despite the obvious risks, and yet fear to let our kids join the Lord’s army. Surely, it’s a better choice.
    We don’t suffer because we’re too comfortable and content to leave the safety of our homes and go where the gospel is spreading the fastest — places where there’s real suffering.

    How about:

    Salary
    G.I. Bill
    Veteran's benefits

    The government values the dedication and commitment of its troops, and cares for them. Yes, the VA leaves much to be desired in recent years, but it is still an effort to care for servants of the mission of the republic.

    If the church put its money where its mouth should be, instead of making mission-minded people scrape and bow from congregation to congregation – if we treated them like Antioch treated Barnabas and Paul – if the mission of God really became our overriding pattern and function, parents would encourage their children to participate because they'd be participating themselves!

  3. Guy says:

    Jay,

    i fought back tears as i read this post today. It's probably the single most convicting thing i've read from you. i deeply appreciate your words, Brother. (And i hope you wouldn't mind if i used bits of it for future class material??)

    –Guy

  4. Jerry Starling says:

    I remember once I was at a Christian College lectureship when one of the speakers was a missionary from Texas. He told of how his grandmother cried when he told the family he was going to be leaving to enter the mission field. She said, "Why are you doing this to us?"

    The mission field? Our neighbor to the north – Canada.

    On the other hand, when I called my parents to tell them of my decision to go to New Zealand, my mother wept for joy.

    I have no idea how she would have reacted if I had told her I was going to work in a leper colony in a Hindu part of India where Christians are routinely persecuted – as a group of folks I met about 3 weeks ago do on an annual basis. These people, to me, are real heroes of the faith. It was of such people that the Hebrew writer said, "of them, the world is not worthy."

    Jerry Starling CommittedtoTruth.wordpress.com

  5. Mick Porter says:

    BTW, as much as I enjoyed this being illustrated by the Yes quote, it's actually a really big deal to me. Our closest friends have just moved to one of the truly poorest places on earth to learn a language so they can inhabit a slum for several years – with their young children.

    It's been incredible watching their growing convictions in this regard over a few years, and particularly seeing a definite call of God upon their lives and seeing them respond to that call despite its challenges (challenges that include family, as per Jerry's comment).

  6. Guy says:

    i think we've allowed the suburbanite culture of fear and "i shouldn't ever have to drive through the 'bad' part of town" permeate the church. That's definitely been my experience anyway. Two years ago my congregation cancelled our mission trip to mexico because of the drug violence at the time. Our elder got up fighting back tears saying they decided not to go because it wasn't safe. Then our first song that morning was "anywhere with Jesus i can safely go." i felt so angry like we weren't doing the right thing. but i also felt like i had no place to shout about it since i hadn't signed up to go that year. But still, it seemed crystal clear to me that we weren't exhibiting first century (or 2nd-3rd century) values.

    –Guy

  7. Mike Ward says:

    Guy ,

    Some Christians decided not to go on a mission trip because they feared for their safety.

    You didn't criticize them to their faces because you had not signed up to go even when it was thought to be safe.

    So instead you come here and criticize them.

    Tell me what I'm missunderstand.

  8. Jay Guin says:

    Jerry,

    Amen. We need to develop a means of holding such people up as heroes to our congregations — especially our children. These are truly examples of carrying one's cross and self-sacrifice. I wonder how many churches and youth programs routinely take the time to talk about our missionaries as heroes of the faith?

  9. Ray Downen says:

    Nick Gill suggests: How about:

    Salary
    G.I. Bill
    Veteran’s benefits

    The government values the dedication and commitment of its troops, and cares for them. Yes, the VA leaves much to be desired in recent years, but it is still an effort to care for servants of the mission of the republic.

    If the church put its money where its mouth should be, instead of making mission-minded people scrape and bow from congregation to congregation – if we treated them like Antioch treated Barnabas and Paul – if the mission of God really became our overriding pattern and function, parents would encourage their children to participate because they’d be participating themselves!

    RAY: But, you see, these long-range payments require a structure that the church doesn't possess or desire. Yet, somehow, we MUST care for those who join in combat for Jesus. Pensions? Housing? Expense vouchers? How could we properly "honor" those who go with no guarantees into dangerous situations in order to tell others about Jesus? How could we work together to undergird evangelists? Some in Christian Churches have formed a body which sends and supports missionaries. Is this a good thing? Must all work be done by a congregation alone?

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