Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Potter and the Clay - a Biblical response to suffering

It’s been two painful Monday’s of tragic loss, hasn’t it?
Rick and Kay Warren lost their youngest son, Matthew, who committed suicide on Monday 8th April after suffering with depression for years. Many have wept and prayed with empathy for this remarkable couple, their family and church.

Then Monday the 15th, the Boston Bombings claimed the lived of three people and injured 183, many of whom were maimed terribly. One father who was running in the marathon, lost his 8 year old son in the bombings, while his wife suffered brain damage, and his daughter lost her leg. Of course, those who ran towards the bomb victims risking their own lives to help others, gave us glimmers of hope in the horror, but we were still left with the bitter gall of horrific injustice, tragic loss of life, health and peace.

There are many people in our own community who have experienced terrible suffering and loss too. They have lost loved ones prematurely, lost health, jobs, houses, marriages, friends, businesses and more. Some may argue that we still have so much here in the OC compared to others, and that is true. Suffering is relative, but it is no less real or painful for those that experience it.

If there is one thing we are assured of in this life, it is to suffer in some way, or to witness others suffer. Suffering is a central theme of Scripture, because it is a central theme of life.
It is natural and understandable to respond to suffering by asking,"Why?" "Why me?" "Why them?"
"Why me and not them?!" Buy 'why' is often a question that ties us in knots.

Many of the Bible’s characters suffer terribly for extended periods of time for seemingly very little reason. Still, scripture doesn’t view suffering as senseless, even if it doesn’t make complete sense to people in the moment. It becomes clear that God is at work in it to fulfill His purposes and for people’s good. As Martin Luther King once said, "The Arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice."

So then, how do we endure suffering with joy, and even more, learn from it with hope while we go through the long arc? Isaiah the prophet used the metaphor of the potter and the clay to describe the mysterious relationship between God’s purposes and His people’s experience of suffering. Yet oh Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. The metaphor has two big ideas.

First, God’s Sovereignty as Creator, to do as He pleases with us, His creation. That God is Sovereign in suffering may seem offensive to us, but do we really want a God who is not ultimately in control of everything? Surely, if we rob God of sovereignty in suffering, we rob God of God?
Second, that God our Father, is able to shape something of profound beauty and value out of suffering; something that can hold his glory. He makes all things beautiful in his time. Suffering is not senseless at all, even if we struggle to make sense of it at the time.

No book in the Bible, and perhaps even the world, handles the topic of suffering, especially the topic of suffering and loss, as deeply and profoundly as the book of Job. Job is an Epic poem, made up of three conversations. One between God and Satan, one between Job and his friends and one between Job and God. The first chapter gives us a glimpse behind the scenes of suffering - showing us that suffering is complex and cannot be solved by pat answers or cliché’s. It also shows us a healthy way to respond to suffering and the real reason behind suffering.

God, who foresaw your tribulation, has specifically armed you to go through it, not without pain but without stain --C.S. Lewis "Letters of C.S. Lewis"

This Sunday at Southlands Church we will be looking at 'Job, suffering and loss.'I hope you will join us, either live or online.

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