Are you the victim of mistreatment and unjust oppression? Are you feeling hopeless? Are you wondering why God is allowing you to suffer so unfairly?
In this 29 minute presentation, in English with Burmese subtitles and photos from the present Myanmar context, I address the following four questions.
1. “Why us?”
2. “Why is God so silent?”
3. “Where can we find God?”
4. “What hope is there?”
When we suffer unjustly, we all want deliverance from our suffering. But when God does not spare us, we often want answers to questions like these. Now, some of these questions cannot be fully answered, given our limited ability to understand the will and ways of God. However, at the same time, the Bible has a lot to say about each one, and the experience of millions of followers of Christ shows that there truly is hope for those who live in seemingly hopeless circumstances. The key is to understand what kind of hope is available to us when there seems no way to stop those who are mistreating us or to escape our painful situation.
Coping with oppression and trauma is complicated and often requires therapy, pastoral counseling, and/or a lot of help from others. In this video, I do not try to address all of these issues comprehensively, but rather focus on the great spiritual resources that believers have in Jesus Christ and in the ongoing presence and power of the Holy Spirit. The more you learn how to draw on the Spirit’s support and encouragement, they more you will experience inner peace, inspiration, and hope to enable you to face whatever you must face in this life with greater strength and hope. Never do I suggest that suffering from mistreatment or oppression is easy, but I do know how much help comes from leaning on the Lord Jesus Christ at such times.
The original context for this video was a special talk for faculty and theological students at the Myanmar Institute of Theology, in Yangon, Myanmar. I welcome your comments and questions, as this is a topic for ongoing reflection, prayer, and discussion for the people in Myanmar and for all those who suffer unjustly.
Truth 4: Expect to share in Christ’s sufferings. Expect to share in his glory
In many places around the world, Christians suffer for their faith. It comes in many different forms, from mild to intense, from subtle to overt. Christians are routinely subjected to rejection and marginalization in social settings. Sometimes, they are also victims of more serious attacks, such as false accusations, hatred, opposition, physical abuse, and are sometimes even killed. No one wants to suffer like this, but, at the same time, sharing in the sufferings of Christ has been considered a privilege by Christians in every generation. It’s also expected.
The good news is that sharing in Christ’s sufferings is also the pathway to our glory one day.
Spiritual Truth 4: Expect to share in the sufferings of Christ. Expect to share in his glory. (Romans 8:14-18, 29-30; Phil. 2:5-8; Luke 22:42-44; Heb. 5:7; 12:1-2)
Children of God share in Christ’s sufferings
We are never commanded to suffer or to share in Christ’s suffering in the Bible. Rather, the Apostle Paul talks about it more as an expected experience for those who faithfully follow Jesus. For example, in his letter to the Romans, Paul wrote:
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God…. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—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.
(Romans 8:14, 17, NIV)
And, in his letter to the Philippians, Paul points to Jesus as our role-model. He writes:
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.
(Phil. 2:5-8, NRSV, emphasis added)
We are not supposed to seek suffering, but we are called to follow Jesus. With faithfulness to him will come suffering for us. Why? Because when we say yes to God, there’s often a cost. When we say no to temptation, we might have to live with unfulfilled desires or feel we are missing out on something we want to do or experience. When we choose holiness and godliness, we may be left without our crutches and the (false) comfort they bring. When we devote ourselves to serving Christ and the Gospel, we and our families often have to make sacrifices. When we hold firm to our faith in Christ among nonbelievers, we may have to endure their hostility, rejection, marginalization, or worse.
Jesus knew the costs of devotion to God’s will very well. So, he made it clear what the call to discipleship means:
If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.
(Luke 9:23-24, NRSV)
We can no longer follow Jesus on the road to Jerusalem, as his original disciples did; and none of us can die with him on the cross. Jesus was not asking for that. He was calling us to follow him on the path that leads to life. He was teaching us to relinquish our attachment to serving ourselves and living life in our own way, and instead put him at the center of our lives and devote ourselves to serving him and the Gospel, accepting that suffering will come with our calling. In this act of “losing” our life, we will save it.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus famously prayed,
Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me, but not my will, but yours be done. An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly….
The writer to the Hebrews interprets the story this way:
Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.
What does this mean? Since we know Jesus went right from the garden of Gethsemane to the cross, within a matter of hours, in what sense were Jesus’s prayers heard? He was not saved from death, at least not from the painful ordeal of the cross, prior to his resurrection. Jesus, the most faith-filled and faithful human being who ever lived, who was also the Son of God, was not spared from suffering and death, even though he poured out his requests for deliverance in prayer. Why not?
He was not spared, because it was not God’s will to deliver him. God chose the Son to die for the sake of saving the world. That was more important than sparing Jesus from suffering.
Jesus, in his obedience to the Father, accepted this fact. He submitted to the will of God. And, so, “he was heard” by God. In his hour of trial, he received from God what he needed to fulfill his calling. Jesus’s anguished prayer was not in vain. Though his prayer to be delivered from his suffering was not granted, he received strength to face his suffering.
We will share in his glory
When this life is over, and our all our suffering is finished, we will inherit the fullness of God’s salvation with Christ. All we see that we were indeed children of God, led by the Spirit of God. This will be our moment of glory.
As so Paul can say with confidence:
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
(Romans 8:18, NIV)
We do not deserve this glory, nor can we glorify ourselves. Rather, our glory comes from God’s glory being revealed in us. By grace, the Father made us his children. He gave us the ability to put our faith in Jesus Christ. He enabled us to pick up our crosses daily. His Spirit taught us, empowered us, and led us. And by his grace, he enabled us to say, Yes to God, Yes to Jesus, and Yes to sharing in Christ’s suffering along the way. By God’s loving work in our lives, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all glorified, and so are we. Consequently, Paul could say:
For those whom [God] 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.
In the west rose window of the Chartres Cathedral, we gaze upon Christ sitting on the judgment seat in heaven. What do we see? What does a glorified body look like? If we look carefully, we will see his nailed-pierced hands and gaping gash in his side, with blood flowing from all his wounds. In some way we cannot fully understand, Christ’s shed blood covers the sins of the world for those who put their faith in him. We deserve condemnation, but we will be forgiven. We expect punishment, but our Judge will greet us as a self-sacrificing Savior.
Look at the stained glass window, pictured above. Jesus’s palms are open, showing that he will be there in heaven to welcome you. His wounds reassure you that he has paid the price for your sins. You are beloved by the Father. You are being conformed to the image of his precious son, Jesus Christ. You are indeed a child of God, in whom the Holy Spirit is now working and will continue to lead, guide, comfort, and strengthen you throughout this life. Then, one day, when you arrive in heaven, you will share in Christ’s glory.
None of us wants to suffer for our faith. But if following Jesus faithfully means sharing in his sufferings, what will you choose? Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. He’s your Lord and Savior. The writer to the Hebrews gives this fitting word of exhortation:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses [the Old Testament heroes of the faith], let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and … run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
(Hebrews 12:1-2, NRSV, emphasis added)
May God give you the grace and strength you need today to face your fears and your suffering, to continue on the path of faith and faithfulness, and to fulfill God’s will for your life.
[To read this essay in Burmese and certain Chin dialects, go to “Resources in Burmese” in Faith, Hope, and Love Global Ministries’ Resource Library, or look for it on my Facebook page, later this week.]
This essay series was created in response to the 2020 COVID-19 global crisis. Each essay expands on the practical suggestions offered, “Trusting God,” chapter eight in The Spirit-Led Leader: Nine Leadership Practices and Soul Principles (Herndon, VA: Alban Institute, 2005), pages 184-190.