The Answer of the God who Suffers
Thursday of Pentecost 12
11 August 2016
Suffering is one of the great question marks hanging over the world. When some great tragedy comes upon a seeming innocent we say accusingly, "Where was God? If there really is a supremely good God he would not permit such things to happen." And thus either God's supremacy or His goodness are questioned. We say this of the occasional brutality that breaks through the fragile patina of civility covering the seething desires of humanity, such as when one teen kills another merely to see how it feels.  
 
But what would we say if there were once again a systematic persecution of the Christian religion in which Christians were routinely rounded up and subjected to brutal torture and summary executions, as is now happening in the Middle East? What kind of God permits His faithful followers to be so abused and for the sake of His faith which they confess? Strangely, the question of God's supreme goodness never passed the lips of the early Christians who themselves suffered such indignities at the hands of hostile Roman authorities. As they were ripped apart by wild animals they still confessed their faith in a supremely good God and prayed for their persecutors.
 
They knew their God as the one who Himself accepted suffering in His own crucifixion and death. They knew their God as the one who made martyrdom glorious by shaping their death like Christ's. They knew their God as the one who rescued them from the dominion of darkness, through the most powerful instrument of darkness: death. They knew their God as the one who took the world's evil into Himself that its evil might not vanquish those who suffer. They knew the God whose verdict upon the wages of sin was death, but that their mortal life, forfeit in this age and under its ruler, would be returned to them immortal in the age to come. The God who suffers answers tout court the question of suffering hanging over the world.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Augustine of Hippo
 
 "Although the death of the flesh itself also came originally from the sin of the first man, yet the good use of it has made most glorious martyrs. Not only death itself, but all the evils of this world, and the griefs and labors of men, although they come from the results of sins, and especially of original sin, whence life itself too became bound by the bond of death, have rightly remained, even when sin is forgiven, that man might contend for truth, and the goodness of the faithful might be exercised. Then the new man through the new testament might be made ready among the evils of this world for a new world, by bearing wisely the misery which this condemned life deserved, and by rejoicing soberly because it will be finished, but expecting faithfully and patiently the blessedness which the future life, being set free, will have forever. For the devil being cast forth from his dominion, and from the hearts of the faithful, in the condemnation and faithlessness of whom he, although himself also condemned, yet reigned over, is only so far permitted to be an adversary according to the condition of this mortality, as God knows to be expedient for them. Concerning which the sacred writings speak through the mouth of the apostle: 'God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.' (1Co 10:13).
 
"The evils which the faithful endure piously, are of profit either for the correction of sins, or for the exercising and proving of righteousness, or to manifest the misery of this life, that the life where will be that true and perpetual blessedness may be desired more ardently, and sought out more earnestly. But it is on their account that these evils are still kept in being, of whom the apostle says: 'For we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified' (Rm 8:28-30). It is of these who are predestined, that not one shall perish with the devil; not one shall remain even to death under the power of the devil. And then follows what I have already cited above: 'What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?' ( Rm 8:31-32 )."

Augustine, On the Trinity, 13.16
Psalm 52

Why do you boast of evil, O mighty man? The steadfast love of God endures all the day. Your tongue plots destruction, like a sharp razor, you worker of deceit. You love evil more than good, and lying more than speaking what is right. You love all words that devour, O deceitful tongue. But God will break you down forever; he will snatch and tear you from your tent; he will uproot you from the land of the living. The righteous shall see and fear, and shall laugh at him, saying, "See the man who would not make God his refuge, but trusted in the abundance of his riches and sought refuge in his own destruction!" But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever. I will thank you forever, because you have done it. I will wait for your name, for it is good, in the presence of the godly.   (ESV)
Prayer
Lord Jesus Christ, You suffered under the burden of our sins and died in our place, that the wages of sin might not separate us from You, who gives us an indestructible life. Amen.
 
For persecuted Christians all over the world, but especially in the Middle East, that they would confess the mercy of God in the midst of suffering
 
For all unborn children, that God would keep them safe in His place of nurture until He brings them forth from the womb
 
For the members of the Board of Regents of Concordia Theological Seminary, that the Lord Jesus would watch over and protect them as they do His work in His name
Art: Durer, Albrecht   The Adoration of the Trinity (1515) 
Memorial Lutheran Church
smurray@mlchouston.org
http://www.mlchouston.org
©  Scott Murray 2016