Updated: Sep 1
May 2, 2021
If we ask ourselves, "Does Christianity sustain us through our suffering?" we will find there are no easy answers. Three things that Christianity says about suffering...
1.That suffering is a plain reality Breaking down Romans 8:17-23
Verse 17-we suffer with him
Verse 18–our present sufferings
Verse 22–the whole creation has been groaning
Verse 23–we ourselves, groan inwardly
2.That it makes suffering meaningful and purposeful 3.That it sustains you when you suffer now
1. We know God enters into our suffering with us 2. We know that God gives us the grace to endure our pain 3. We know that God causes our suffering to work for our good
The sustaining power He gives us now is HOPE.
Verses to study:
Does suffering produce anything good?
What is my hope?
How does Christianity sustain me in my suffering(s)?
Richard and Catherine:
2000, was it January, January 2007. Well, we were married January 2007. And we found out we were expecting our first child, a honeymoon baby, and we were very excited. At our 20- week ultrasound, they discovered that Alicia's heart was backwards. And that led to multiple defects, which we were told, would likely mean she would not survive, much past birth. And so, we just realized that our time with our daughter was likely going to be very short. And then the day she was born, my one prayer that day was that, even if it was just for a moment that I would get to hold her, even if it was just for 30 seconds, just to have that moment with her. The path at that time was basically an open-heart surgery. And so, we were admitted, for the first of many operations. The surgery itself was a success. But there was an additional complication, she started throwing blood clots, and one perforated her bowel. You know, again, first year of marriage, we spent our first Christmas, our first New Year's and our first anniversary in the cardiac critical care unit. And they had a minor outpatient procedure was what it was called. And we were sitting in the waiting room for this simple procedure was going to be in and out. And there was a cardiac call for emergency; for our daughter's cardiologist was paged. And I looked at Richard and I said, That's Alicia. And then the next thing we knew we were being ushered into a side room. And the surgeon came in looking absolutely gray, just already crying. And they believe a blood clot broke loose, went up her artificial shunt, and blocked the blood flow to her brain. So, they performed CPR for 30 minutes, they were able to resuscitate her. But to all intents and purposes, she was gone. Like she was completely brain dead at that point, that became clear that she was not going to recover, she was on the ventilator, not breathing on our own. So, the hospital had made the decision to remove her from life support. And so, they gave us 24 hours to get family in and friends to say, to say our goodbyes, and then the doctor came and removed the life support. And they assured us that she would be gone within a few seconds, you know, maybe a couple minutes at most. So, we were saying one hymn, and then another, and then another. And at the end, she was breathing on her own. Her heart was, you know, beating again, we know now it was brainstem activities. But it was miraculous, given what we were thinking was going to happen right away. So, the doctor came in and said, well, call me when something happens; it'll be within 24 hours. Well, that 24 hours came and went, and she just kept breathing. So, three days in the bereavement room, we were moved up to the cardiac floor. After a week there we were sent home with palliative care. And again, they're all saying, “Oh, it'll be any time now anytime now.” And it was another five weeks at home that we had her. And that's really when things got hard that last week, her body really started to break down. It was very difficult. And I think I've never had as low a point in my life as that week. But every morning when I would wake up and she was still with us, I was reminded of this verse from Psalm 73, verse 26, which says, “My flesh and my heart fail, but God is the strength of my life and my portion forever.” In the afternoon, around five o'clock, the doctor came in and we chatted and, and 15 minutes after she walked out the door. Alicia took her last breath. And you know, the Lord took her home. Even in those final moments when Richard was holding her like as she took her last breath, you know, as a comfort to myself as well as for her to hear my voice one last time, this side of heaven. I could say with confidence, I will see you soon. With all our ins and outs from the hospital we also met a lot of other parents who are in similar situations. And there were two families in particular, who were of a different religion. But again, we just we really connected with our grieving for the difficulties our children were having. And for them. for both these families, we grieve along with them, because they had no hope of ever seen their child again. For them, that was the end, they're saying goodbye to the earthly body and the spiritual aspect was not there. They were in complete grief because they were just at an utter loss. So, we were able to share that hope we have, that for us this is this is not the end, this is not the last time. So even all this time on and even with all the comfort, there is still that sorrow, but it's not without hope. You know, we still we still grieve, we still sorrow. But ultimately our, our hope is in Jesus Christ.
God cares for our daughter, our child, even more than we do. And it's never been in doubt in our mind. But it was such a comfort to know that where we felt we were unable to care for her many times, we knew that God cared for her much more than we could and that sustained us. Even after that, the whole concept of putting a body in the ground, and this is your baby, and you've done everything you can as a mother and as a father to care for this child. Now you're, you're walking away and you're abandoning them. God doesn't abandon. And we’re singing, somehow, In Christ Alone, at the funeral, and the final verse is, “It's from life's first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny.” And just being able to sing that our voices break, but the truth is, is real and is strong, the next. The next day, the I’ve been reading through the Psalms and just thought, let me let me turn to Psalm nine. And it was Psalm nine, verse one. And it says, “I will praise You, O Lord, with my whole heart.” And it was just an amazing woman is God allowed in that moment just to say, I am praising you, you know, with my whole heart, as the echo of what Alicia was doing with pure lips more than our own, Alicia's praising our Savior, and her Lord.
Speaker: Pastor David Welch
Good morning, Hey, would you say thank you to Richard and to Catherine for sharing their story with us. That takes a lot of vulnerability and a lot of strength to just walk you through the most tragic thing, the hardest thing that has ever happened in your life. But I hope that you see in Richard and Catherine's story, this invisible resource that they carried all the way through not only the loss of their little daughter, but afterwards; that is that God sustained them. And that's what today is about. We're in this series that's called does Christianity work? And we are not asking the usual philosophical questions that skeptics and atheists post about Christianity. Instead, we've gone straight to the most practical questions, the questions that ask does it work in my life? Does Christianity work in my life? Does it do what it says it will do? For instance, does it give hope? For instance, does prayer actually work? For instance, does faith in God actually change my life? And then today, I think the scariest question of all, Can God sustain me when I suffer? You see, that's a question of practicality, that’s a question of whether Christianity works or not. And I'm going to approach it. But I want you to know, I'm carrying a lot of awareness of how sensitive I must be about asking this question. And the humility that I've got to bring to this because here's the deal. I know that I'm talking to people in this room and to people who have joined us online who are suffering right now. And nothing feels like an answer. And so, I want you to know that, that Christianity is honest enough to say that there are no pat answers. There are no easy or pat answers that will instantaneously satisfy and fix your suffering when you hear the answer. Just to clarify where we're going, we're not going to ask “the why question”. We've done that many times, when we preached on when we suffer. We're moving to does Christianity actually do anything about my suffering, the suffering that I experience right now. And that's where we're going to plow ahead.
Let me lay this foundation. There are a lot of human philosophies, human and manmade religions, I'm going to lump them all under kind of a category of atheism. And I just want you to know that they have no meaningful answer regarding our suffering at all. And in all honesty, a genuine atheist will say that atheism has no meaningful answer regarding our suffering at all. In fact, Richard Dawkins puts it best, the best-known atheist of our generation, when he writes about our existence, he writes there is at the bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pointless indifference. He's describing the human experience; we are just machines, propagating DNA. The implication of every human religion, philosophy, or atheistic thought process; the implication is that means that your life, your career, your loves, your sufferings, they have no meaning at all. And none of your joys mean anything at all. I've read to you before, I'm just going to remind you, I put together a list of 12 eminent secular philosophers, from the last 100 years or so who all committed suicide out of sheer despondency of how they saw life. So, I'm just saying that atheism brings no meaningful answer to the suffering that comes into your life. But Christianity, sees it in a completely different way. And I want you to feel that, know that, and grapple with that over the next few minutes. In fact, I want you to hear the Word of God, as Christ followers. We believe that the Bible is the Word of God. These are words from God. And so, they're supernatural, and they speak into our life, and to listen to it that way. I'm going to read out of Romans 8 and give you a taste of what the Bible says that Christianity brings to our suffering. And so, the Bible says beginning in verse 17 of Romans 8, “Now if we are children, (and what he means by that is that when you embrace Christ, when you put your faith in Christ, you become a child, you become a child of God.) And so now if we are children, then we're also heirs.” An heir is an inheritor, an heir is an inheritor of everything that the father has, and that the Father freely gives to his children. “And so, if we are children, then we're heirs were heirs of God and co- heirs with Christ. If indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” That's going to break open in several minutes. Verse 18: “So I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us.” Verse 22, skipping down, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth, right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit we grown inwardly, as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” He's talking about that moment that Christ returns, or the moment that you resurrect from the grave. Verse 24, “For in this hope we were saved, but hope that is seen is no hope; for what a man sees, why does he yet hope for?” Verse 25, “But if we hope for what we do not see, then do with patience wait for it.” And so, I said, this is the word of God, and it speaks supernaturally; let it do that in your life. And let Him answer this question. Here's our question: Does Christianity sustain me when I suffer? Let's dig into that.
Christianity says that faith in Christ changes everything about your suffering, and so I’m going to lay that down before you over the next several minutes. And so, Christianity says about suffering, at least these three basic things. How does it sustain you? It is when you come to grips with these three basic things: number one, Christianity says that suffering is a plain reality. And why do I even need to say that? I need to say it because there are, there are a lot of religious expressions. For instance, there are forms of Buddhism that would say that your suffering your pain is an illusion. A lot of the Deepak Chopra, a new ageiness, would say the same - thing that your suffering is just an illusion. Christianity says the opposite. It's a plain reality, that if you're human, then you're in an experience of suffering, a roller coaster of suffering. In fact, it's repeated over and over in this passage, verse 17 ,18, 22,23,” we suffer with him”, we suffer; verse 18, our present sufferings, verse 22, the whole creation has been groaning another word for suffering, we ourselves groan inwardly. The word suffering comes from a word that we can almost translate into pathos, it means emotion, it means the emotional pain of something. It's probably more like the word affliction. The word groaning is stenazo- groaning, this is not this is not like groaning, the groan that you emit, you know, because you are sore from your workout yesterday, this is not that groaning. This is deep, serious groaning. In fact, in Greek literature, this word is used to describe the groaning of dying soldiers on the battlefield. Just imagine, for a moment, the aftermath of the hand-to-hand combat of an ancient battle. And the battlefield is strewn with soldiers’ bodies, and they're dying and groaning from their injuries. And he's giving that as the picture of that, that is what the human experience is about. These words are referring to serious pain and affliction, and suffering. And Christianity says, it's not an illusion; it is reality. Nobody gets out of this life without serious suffering; there's the reality of Christianity. In fact, I want you to hear how Christianity explains our suffering. In Genesis three, and in Romans one, it tells us that humanity through Adam and Eve, when they sinned, all of reality became broken by that sin, our human nature, and everything in creation. And it is in this process of decay. We are broken, our bodies are broken, all of creation is broken. Everything is in decay. And so, the Bible is telling us what we already know deep inside our lives consist of groaning. We groan because of what sin has done to us. What it makes us into, how it frustrates us, how it limits us, how it hurts us. And so, we’ve grown physically, emotionally, mentally, and psychologically, and we’ve grown spiritually. It's a reality of this experience. And so why go through all that, right? Why go through the suffering of all that? Here's what you need to sort of come to this reality, the reality that Christianity says it's just a plain reality, here's why. You've got to find a resource. You've got to find a reality that can overcome the effects of suffering that you are either in or that is coming your way, otherwise, it will destroy you. And so, Christianity says, first is foundation, that your suffering is a plain reality, it’s the human condition.
But then secondly, and even more importantly, that faith in God, Christianity makes your suffering meaningful and purposeful. This is huge, this is what faith in Christ can do in your suffering. It can make it not like the atheists say to have no purpose at all, that it's just totally random, but rather that it can that Christianity makes what your suffering meaningful and purposeful. That's what's going on in verses 17 and 18, especially the last half of 17 that we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. In verse 18, I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us, it's. It's at least telling us that our suffering has purpose, and it has direction, it has meaning in our lives. The point is, that as a person who has placed your faith in Christ, your suffering is fundamentally different than someone separated from Christ. And what is it; what is that difference? Here's the difference: It's producing something in you that cannot be produced in someone who doesn't know Christ, it's producing something in you. Did you see that? He's not talking about there. Look, you get a reward. If you suffer, you know, I will pin on a reward on your chest because you suffered. Actually, he's saying that it produces glory in you. It produces something more wonderful than your mind can fully embrace in this moment. No other kind of suffering does that; only when your life is linked to the life of Christ. Can you experience this? Now I want you to weld two passages of Scripture together, this Romans 8: 16 and 17, now welded to this II Corinthians 4: 16 and 17. This can make all the difference in the world and how you suffer. Verse 16, says, Therefore, we do not lose heart, (II Corinthians 4:16) Therefore, we do not lose heart. Now think about II Corinthians - not familiar with him, he just gives you a little, one little touch of it. Curiously, the Apostle Paul is being transparent with the believers in Corinth. And on multiple occasions in this book, he catalogues his sufferings. He describes his sufferings as being shipwrecked three times, just floating out in the middle of the Mediterranean. I mean, think about a wooden ship breaking up, an ancient wooden ship breaking up and being thrown upon the rocks. He describes being punished by beatings by whips, by a cat of nine tails, and by rods. So, he was tied to a pole, and beaten over and over and over. He describes an attempt to stone him to death; either they did stone him to death, and God brought him back or they thought he was dead. He still got up and continued on. And he describes it even more. This is the kind of suffering that Paul is going through. And yet he says, in the midst of all of that, I don't lose heart. Why? Why didn't it just decimate him? “Though outwardly, (pick up the verse again), though, outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we're being renewed day by day.” Something is happening inside of me as a result of my suffering. Verse 17: “For our light and momentary troubles,” pause right there for a moment. Would you call what Paul just described as his troubles being light and momentary? I mean, what is it that must happen inside of a person for them to look at getting multiple beatings and assassination attempts, and sicknesses and to call that light and momentary, something significant has got to happen inside of you. It says for “our light and momentary troubles, are achieving for us, an eternal glory that far outweighs all the suffering.” We can't even touch all that means. I'm going to begin to describe just a thimbleful of what that means. The very afflictions that wear us down, they're the very means that the Holy Spirit uses to produce this glory in us. Do you get that - the very process of suffering, wearing down your strengths is the process that is producing what Paul calls here as glory in you? What is that? I mean, if, if this is what suffering is doing in me, if this is what it's producing, I'd like to know what it is. What is glory? Let me give you a definition of glory. Glory is the reflection of God's nature in you. Now, if that's not life changing yet it will be by the time we finished describing it, it is because you are an image bearer of your Creator. You have a nobility that is beyond belief, because you are simply created in the image of your Creator, but like a mirror broken, that glory has been fractured in you. That's what sin has done to us. And so, Christ coming to live in you begins this renewing, this restoration process that he just talked about here in verse 16. And so, glory being produced in you, as a result of suffering is the radiance and the beauty of your worth, as an image bearer of God, it's the essence of who God made you to be, finally showing and revealing itself. In fact, there's an ultimate expression of this, though that renewing is going on right now, that this suffering is being converted into glory, even now. And in it, it's expressing your image bearing nature, even right now. And there’s an ultimate demonstration of that glory is when you are resurrected on the last day. That will be the day that you are fully transformed into who God originally created you to be, and your glory will shine like the sun. Your glory will be the fullness of everything that God created you to be, do you see this essence flowing out of you is just simply everything that God created you to be? You'll be eternal, you'll never grow old, you'll never degrade or decay. In fact, you will be in a constant state of renewing, which means the second day after resurrection, you will be newer than you were the first day after resurrection. And the same will go for the 10,000th year, you will be newer 10,000 times greater. This passage talks about the frustration introduced into creation as a result of our fall. Do you get that right? If you live long enough, you get there is no human activity that is not accompanied by frustration. There's no human activity that there is not some element of frustration, in all of life, in every endeavor, in every activity. In every relationship, it's accompanied by frustration. Glory, one aspect of glory will ultimately be the absence of that; none ever again. Glory is your operating in the fullness of your capabilities, the ones that God put there, as an image bearer of him, no more limitations growing every day in your capabilities. I once read a commentator who put it in terms of physical senses. He wrote that the that the difference between four senses and five senses is huge, right? You have five functioning senses, most of us have five functioning senses, right? It's our sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste. And think of if we were to lose one of those, just choose one if you if you lost your sight, if you lost your hearing, if you just lost one of those, think of what would happen to your life, it just suddenly limits your life, it suddenly shuts your life down by the loss of one, you had five now you’ve got four, you've only lost just one. How can it have such an effect that