Skip to content
Nov 30 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

October 25, 2012 – Hebrews 12:4-11

A “Theology of Suffering”

All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. Hebrews 12:4-11

INTRO: When we meet a person with spiritual depth, we naturally want to learn from him or her

If that person is willing to work with us, we are blessed with a spiritual mentor

Let’s consider the writer of Hebrews as our spiritual mentor
– you sit down with him and he asks a few questions
• he probes your faith, experience of God’s Spirit, and personal concerns
– when you finish, he sits in silence for a long time
• finally, he looks at you, smiles, and says,

“So, you want a stronger, closer relationship with Jesus, and you want to be a better person, and enjoy freedom from sin . . .” he pauses, then says, “but you don’t want the process to hurt or cost you anything”

This is what our passage is about, “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful”
– doesn’t that sound like an understatement?

During this last summer’s Olympics, NBC profiled a few of the athletes
– every one of them had daily grueling workout schedules
training entails suffering

I have wrestled with something a spiritual mentor once said

In making an argument for miraculous healing today, he said,

“We have a theology of suffering, but not a theology of healing”

– in my opinion, he overstated the case

We don’t have a theology of suffering
– we have platitudes, cliches, and superficial reassurances
• “God won’t give us more than we can bear”
• “Just pray and trust God”
• “God’s presence seems closer when we suffer”
– sometimes God never seems more far away, silent, invisible, and non-existent than when we suffer
• remember Jesus’ cry from the cross?

We could use the help of a spiritual mentor who understands this

Most of us hold up well enough under moderate suffering

But when one thing piles on another or our misery goes on for too long, we reach a breaking point
– something odd and unpredictable happens at the breaking point
• one person gives up on God, and another gives up to God
• for one, it is faith that breaks down, for another, it’s the will

When I find myself struggling with my suffering, it is not always the hardship itself that I am fighting
– it is the fact that I am still hanging on to something
• to what I had hoped to become
• to what I wanted for this season of my life
• to what I had fought long and hard to achieve

The person who gets to the breaking point and surrenders to God, is the one who prays, “Nevertheless, not my will, but Your will be done”
– they have stopped dictating to God how things must turn out
– that is when suffering moves us forward
• then we really do have a stronger sense of God’s presence
○ then, as Thielicke says, “the joy of him whom I love is stronger than the suffering to which I am called.”

It is only when our hardships and heartaches, losses and betrayals, setbacks and disappointments,
– it is only when the things we suffer take us this direction, that we can truly think of them as the crosses we must bear
• it is then that every one of them does us some good

In more than one way we took a wrong turn at tree of knowledge

“Good and evil” in Hebrew is tov and ra
– in English, both words are used in two difference contexts:
• a physical context – good circumstances or situation and bad
• a moral context – right and wrong
○ the Hebrew usually tends toward the physical in the Old Testament

We are not always clear on these contexts and tend to confuse them
– for example, if something is painful it also seems wrong or evil
• suffering seems wrong, a dream shattered seems wrong, a loss seems wrong
– we find ourselves judging our circumstances
• what is good or bad physically seems good or evil spiritually and morally

We come to a point of enlightenment, when we learn to stop judging our circumstances

I am not trying to make an argument for suffering

One of the dumbest things Christians have ever done, has been to intentionally inflict pain on themselves

We have a natural aversion to pain
– God has built that into our nervous system – and for good reason
• that is not the problem
– the problem is when we stop learning from what we suffer
• when we keep sticking our fingers into the fan

Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered (He. 5:8)

Besides education, what else is there to be gained through suffering?

  • Empathy – v. 12
    – in my book, The Enlightenment of Job, I paraphrase Job 6:3, & 14 as follows: “For God’s sake, my friend! You’re shocked at my passionate language, but look at me! Find on my body a patch of skin that has not been punctured by one of God’s poison-tipped arrows. . . . “You tell me what you would do if you were me. Let me tell uou what I would do if I were you: I would be devoted to my friend who was broken by despair and sorrow. Even if he turned his back on religion; even if he said outrageous things. I would offer him sympathy rather than solution!”
    • would Job have learned this apart from suffering?
  • Life – v. 9
  • Good – v. 10, benefit, improvement
  • Holiness – v. 10
  • Peace – v. 11
  • Righteousness – v. 11 – makes all our relationships right
    – what do people struggle with more than anything else?
    – relationships – and our biggest struggles are with those who are closest to us

We must not let our pains and griefs go to waste

CONC: Why do we begin with silent prayer week after week?

Not only Sunday mornings, but Sunday and Thursday nights?
– and why are most of us also attempting a daily practice of silent prayer?
• (in fact, we want to develop habit of short pauses in our day to turn our attention completely on God)

It’s because listening in silent prayer is like spiritual therapy
– it’s like sitting in a lab where we can observe our inner life
• we need our shallowness to be exposed
• we need our false logic to be confronted and fixed
– silent prayer is where we find peace with what we suffer

If we listen in prayer and discover that we’re struggling with God, then we’ve located the root of our problem
– the thing that suffering exposes is the same thing that resists exposure

In silent prayer, I pray, “Search me, O God,” and then I listen

In silent prayer, I become aware of what I’m doing
– I catch myself judging my circumstances or fighting God’s will
• then I can stop fighting and surrender

Francois Fenelon wrote to a friend going through hard times
– Fenelon told him that he felt empathy for him in his troubles and wished he could do more
– he explained that his friend would have to be like Abraham and go on, even though he didn’t know where he was going

Fenelon, “We only lose our way when we choose our own aim. Whoever seeks God’s will alone, finds it everywhere, [wherever] God’s providence leads him, and so he never goes astray.”

Just so we are clear on what I’ve been trying to say:

Stop judging your circumstances!

Learn from them
Look for God’s grace in them
And remember, whenever you’re confused about an issue, you can always take it to Jesus and ask, seek, knock

Leave a comment