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The Pauline letters, which were written to encourage the readers

of biblical times, can be a source of great comfort to today’s Christians.

 

 

What Consolation Is Christ to Suffering?

By Yvonne Terry

 

Suffering is universal and timeless. All people experience suffering at one time or another. No one is exempt. Suffering moves in and out of our lives. According to Christian Beker, Suffering and Hope (1987), the Christian experiences a basic tension between suffering and hope. 

We all know that life is a balance of failure, suffering, and success.

Most of us not only struggle with the scope of our individual suffering and success, but that of world suffering. The global range of suffering impacts us all in some way. One has only to turn on the television to learn of war or starving children in Africa. In the United States alone, crime has reached epidemic proportions. 

Our exposure to suffering is a daily and global reality. We learn of the suffering of women and children on a daily basis. Beker believes that the situation of the world outside of us directly impinges on the world inside of us that of our private souls (Beker, 1987). 

In an Apostolic Letter, Pope John Paul II made a distinction between physical and moral suffering. He based this distinction on the two parts of man. According to Pope John Paul II, although passion (or pain) and suffering are to a certain extent synonymous, physical suffering denotes that the body is in pain, whereas moral suffering denotes mental anguish.

Having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is a great consolation to suffering. In this paper I will discuss how women who know Christ as Savior, Redeemer, and Holy Comforter can be consoled while suffering.

In the book When Suffering Persists, Frederick W Schmidt discusses some of the many reasons people give as they try to explain suffering. Most of the reasons are familiar to the Christian and non-Christian alike. 

Some say we suffer because we sin. It is not unusual to hear that persistent suffering is due to sin. Many of us have heard sermons about the sinful nature of man. I suspect that many of us have been told over and over again about how man sins as he attempts to be God. 

Others say suffering is God’s Will. God uses suffering to teach us. Some people believe that suffering can be a test of the virtue of patience. The trials in the Old Testament of Job are well known. Many sermons have been preached about Job. Although Job suffered greatly, he continued to trust God. 

Many people will talk about Job’s story while friends and family members are in the midst of suffering. Most of us have heard more than a few times that God will never put more on you than you can bear. “You can trust God not to let you be tried beyond your strength” (I Corinthians 10:13).

Some say we suffer because we don’t pray or have faith in God. After 9/11, people flocked to churches because they felt a need to pray and return to God. Although it was short-lived, there was a new emphasis on prayer.

God doesn’t will us to suffer, but allows us to suffer (Schmidt, 2001). In the Bible, suffering is regarded as an intrusion into a perfectly created world. When sin enters, suffering enters in the form of conflict, corruption, pain, drudgery, and death.

“Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, “You shall not eat from it”; Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it All the days of your life” (Genesis 3:17). 

The work of Christ on the cross is to deliver us from suffering, corruption, and death. Yet as Christians we do suffer.

Christians suffer great losses and tragedies just like non-Christians. They lose their jobs; their children go to jail, and they endure illnesses and death. Men and women of faith often struggle and wrestle with the idea of innocent suffering. We have all heard the horrible stories of innocent children being killed in a fire, or a father, a hard working family man, shot by a career criminal. 

Most Christians resist the demand for a rational explanation. Original Sin is the answer that we have found to be most useful during these times of suffering. According to this idea, we are all sinners because of the sin of Adam and Eve. Those who believe in the idea of Original Sin believe that we are all sinners by nature. They believe that we live in a fallen and sinful world.

Others have said that suffering should be viewed as purification towards the good. Many people believe that God allows us to suffer as a way to purify us. While it is true that many people grow and develop spiritually as a result of tragedy, can we believe that God chooses certain people to suffer? It is difficult to accept the idea of God as a good and loving father who sets up high and kills innocent children in fires and kills hundreds of people through disease. 

Most of us can come to terms with the suffering of the guilty, but when the innocent suffer “that’s another story. According to Elizabeth Moberly, in Suffering, Innocent and Guilty.The acknowledgement of genuinely innocent suffering is in fact a major intellectual and moral achievement, not something to be taken for granted” (Moberly, 1978).

How do we as Christian women let Christ console us in times of suffering? We can let Christ speak to us through scripture in the Bible. The New Testament, especially I Peter, Revelations, and many of the letters written by Paul deal with the relationship of suffering and hope. The early Christians met in small house churches and endured much suffering.

Although the early Christians were prosecuted, they considered themselves to be special as they waited for the coming Kingdom, which would defeat the hostile powers of Rome.  I Peter deals with constant suffering. Beker says, 

Joy amidst suffering is possible because the life and thought of these early Christians is anchored in a tightly knit support group, the house-church, that gives social and spiritual cohesion to their lives, yields comfort in the midst of oppression, and enable them to devise some strategies of hope. They know the power of the spirit to be present in their midst; the Spirit functions for them not only as their foretaste of God’s final glory and kingdom (4:14) but also as the power that enables them to imitate Christ (1:2; 2:21-25)  (Beker, 1987).

Just as the early Christians found comfort in their support group and house-churches, we can find comfort in God’s word in our support systems. Moreover, we need to read and know God’s word so that we can know the power of the spirit through prayer and worship. We too can be empowered by the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome our struggles.

The Book of Revelation focuses on the topic of suffering with apocalypse.  Both I Peter and Revelation ask the Christian to have patience and endurance amidst suffering. Both these books deal with the coming Kingdom of God and the triumph over evil and suffering. Both books also deal with worldwide suffering.   

The theme of suffering and hope is a central theme in Paul’s letters. Beker discusses the distinction Paul makes between redemptive suffering and tragic or meaningless suffering. Beker says that Paul’s response to the evil of human injustice should guide our reflection and action on suffering and hope.

Both suffering and hope must be embodied and concretized by the “hopeful” suffering of the church at the hands of the powers of injustice. There can be no authentic hope in the church unless it is willing to suffer for its hope in its daily life. For just as suffering without hope degenerates into passive resignation, cynicism, or despair, so hope without a relation to suffering degenerates into false hope. 

And so we confess with Paul: “It is the Spirit himself bearing witness to our Spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him (Romans 8:16-17). As Christians we will suffer because of our belief in Christ, but we will also share Job’s pain and experience the mystery of human suffering.

The Pauline letters, which were written to encourage the readers of biblical times, can be a source of great comfort to today’s Christians. McGrath shares four things that  have been achieved for believers through the death of Jesus Christ. Paul shares that believers receive adoption, justification, redemption, and salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus. 

Adoption allows the believer to receive the same inheritance as Jesus Christ, but we must also share in his suffering. Often an understanding of this principle can be a consolation to the believer. Paul affirms that believers have been “justified through faith” (Romans 5:1-2). Christians who suffer can take some comfort in knowing that God has forgiven them in spite of their sinfulness. 

Paul’s basic idea about redemption appears to be that the death of Christ secures the freedom of believers from slavery to the law of death, in order that they might become slaves of God instead (McGrath, 2001). This is good news! 

According to McGrath, salvation has been seen as of primary importance. Salvation is deliverance from danger or captivity, including the idea of being delivered from some form of illness. Both healing and liberation are embraced by Paul’s notion of salvation. Paul sees salvation as having past, present, and future dimensions (McGrath, 2001). When we think about salvation in this way, it allows the suffer to be consoled in his present circumstance as well as it helps him or her to look to the future based on hope in God.

How do we as Christian women let Christ console us in time of suffering?  I believe that we have to have a personal relationship with Christ based on the love of God. We learned in class that systematic theology is grounded on the unconditional trust in God who saves from evil through the incarnation in Jesus of Nazareth and the work of the Holy Spirit in word and sacrament.   

God loved us so much that he sent Jesus to die on the cross for us. Reflecting on the suffering of Christ can be a great consolation to Christians. We can look to the future because we know that a new life is coming. 

Based on my experiences, Christ suffering a horrible death for us and that rising with all power provide a sense of security. Although I suffered tremendously and experience great pain after the deaths of my husband and son, I always had hope that things would get better. This hope was based on my relationship with Christ. 

The story of the life and death of Christ called me to try to imitate him and take my place alongside others who were suffering or dying. The Christian life is a process of being conformed to the image of Christ. According to Robert Michiels, Jesus and Suffering- The Suffering of Jesus, “although suffering and death can cause great pain, when we focus on the death and resurrection of Jesus, it can lead to a more fulfilled life in Christ.

Throughout the New Testament Jesus offered no explanation for pain and suffering. Michiels says that in light of Jesus’ suffering and death, we realize that suffering and death are a mystery   involving us all. “And the God of grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast” (I Peter 5:10). 

The Bible speaks to us about the love that God has for us. Reading the scriptures, praying, and feeling the love of God can be a great consolation when we are suffering. God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16) As Christians knowing Christ can help us wait for God's mercy and know that we will eventually feel better. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? ,

As it is written, For your sake we are killed all day long, we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter, Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us (Romans 8: 35-37). 

Jack Graham, in  A Hope And a Future, says that the Bible tells us clearly that our love for Christ and our willingness not to give up, to maintain hope- to obey Him even when things are difficult-does not arise naturally within us. We love Him only because He first loved us (Graham, 2002). 

The work of the Holy Spirit in word and sacrament is a consolation to those who suffer. So many scriptures speak to the love of God towards us. “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Galatians 5:16).

When we suffer, the love of Christ can be experienced as we interact with other Christians. Our church families and Christian friends can show the love of Christ by their actions. For example, corporately many churches have ministries to address the needs of the poor and needy. When Christians and non-Christians experience the loss of family members and friends, Christian friends are often there to support them. 

This fellowship is meant to help get the person who is suffering through his or her present ordeal. “This is how we know what love is; Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers” (I John 3:16). Yes, the love of Christ is a consolation to those who suffer.

How do we as Christian women let Christ console us in time of suffering? We must look at suffering in light of hope. Christian Beker in, says “the redemptive act in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ with its promise of  the coming triumph of Christ is the hope that Christians need in times of suffering. The resurrection of Christ not only establishes the content of Christian hope by pointing to God’s coming victory but also disclosed the meaning of the seemingly tragic suffering of Jesus on the cross. 

This confidence in God’s victory can allow us to hope for things to get better. We can express this hope in many ways. It can be expressed in terms of  belief in medical research, preventive health measures, food for the hungry and answers to the problems of the oppressed" (Beker, 1987).

In fact James H. Cone, in A Black Theology of Liberation, says that taking seriously the New Testament Jesus, black theology believes that the historical kernel is the manifestation of Jesus as the Oppressed one who’s earthly existence was bound up with the oppressed of the land (Cone,1997).

In this way people who suffer as a result of being oppressed can still have hope. Black theology, according to Cone, does not deny that Jesus’ resurrection is the “ultimate confirmation of Jesus’ claim to authority, but says that the resurrection must serve to illuminate Jesus’ sole reason for existence: to bind the wounds of the afflicted and to liberate those who are in prison" (Cone, 1997). 

McGrath states that, “the sequence of the cross and resurrection interpreted in terms of a present struggle against evil, conducted in the knowledge of God’s final victory over all suffering and that which causes it” (McGrath, 2001).

I have known people who while suffering some terrible fate placed their hope in God. This hope was not only for a promise of a better life in heaven, but their was hope that things would get better here on earth. Most will agree that it is very difficult to have hope in times of great struggle, but Christians have Christ as a consolation to suffering. The scriptures are full of passages that deal with hope. I know from personal experience and   the experience of others in grief counseling with me that hope that comes from knowing God is always with you. 

Many counselors have reported that Christians on average seemed to heal faster after great tragedies than those with no religious beliefs. "Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord". (Psalm 31: 24). "We rejoice in our suffering, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, character; and  character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us" (Romans 5:3-5).    

Although Christians have Christ as a consolation, it does not necessarily follow that we feel that we have consolation right away. This hope that I speak of is based on the belief that things will get better. I can tell you from personal experience that it does not happen over night.

Beker himself says, “I, cannot however, honestly surrender all human suffering to the wisdom of the cross of Christ –as if the love of God entails confession of his willful impotence” (Beker, 1987). I believe as Beker does that the redemptive act in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ with its promise of “the coming triumph of God is the hope that Christians need in times of suffering. 

As Christians we must believe that evil will not have the final say over God’s creation. Our confidence in God’s victory will allow us to devise strategies to get us through our suffering period. For example, a Christian who loses his job will be upset or disturbed, but many times his hope in God will help him make it through that difficult situation. 

Hope in a triumph God can help someone who has experienced the death of a loved one embraces strategies to help deal with the loss. Some of these strategies might include prayer, grief counseling, helping others who suffer or reading self help books. According to Beker, “a biblical theology of hope provides- not withstanding its inherent problems-the most adequate Christian response to the problem of suffering at the hands of the power of death” (Beker, 1987).

McGrath discusses the connection between the beliefs that Christians hold and the way in which they live (and die) (McGrath, 2001). The very fact that one is a Christian can be a consolation during suffering. Our belief in the victory won by the resurrected Christ is reason for hope.  Jeremy Taylor’s book, The Rules and Exercises  of Holy Dying (1651) which was published in the year of his wife’s death had several objectives which included the following:

The Rules and Exercises of Holy Dying: In Which Are Described The Means And Instruments of Preparing Ourselves and Others Respectively for a Blessed Death: And the Remedies Against the Evils and Temptations Proper to The State of Sickness: Together with Prayers and Acts of Virtue To Be Used By Sick and Dying Persons, Or By Others Standing In Their Attendance.

Taylor was interested in helping Christians die with dignity and peace. The main way that Taylor suggested Christians can deal with the fear of death is to contemplate the hope that Heaven lies beyond death. It is interesting that this book that was published in 1651is still applicable for many who suffer today. 

As I volunteer with the Hospice patients, I have seen first hand how important the spiritual component is to the total program.

Many times the only healing that a dying person receives is spiritual. We, as Christian women, can let Christ console us in a time of struggle through our hope in the power of our resurrected Christ to overcome the evil in this world. For the Christian there is a supernatural strength that can empower every believer. The spirit of God can empower you to bring hope to the hopeless, courage to the fearful, strength to the weary, and joy to those who are sad. 

“The New Testament is saturated with the belief that something new has happened in the history of humanity, in and through the life and death of Jesus Christ, and above all through his resurrection from the dead” (McGrath, 2001). The theme of hope is always present even in the face of death. As Christians we must live with this hope. In this way, the gospel of Jesus is a consolation to suffering.

How do we as Christian women let Christ console us in times of suffering? We look at the suffering in light of faith in the relationship we have with God. Our faith unites us to Christ and his victorious power.

Faith in the resurrection power of Jesus does not mean facile consolation. According to Lambredt and Collins, faith in the resurrection is not simply a soothing device, a promise of pie in the sky. It means God redeems humanity in spite of suffering. Our faith is in the relationship that we have with Christ. It is believing that Christ suffered and was resurrected. It is knowing that as we suffer, Christ suffers with us. He is there to comfort us because of the relationship we have with Him.

According to Schmidt, Jr., “In the incarnation, through Jesus Christ, God identifies with human suffering, affirms the surrender (kenosis) of divine power, and comprehends and transcends our experience of suffering through death and resurrection.” The Bible is full of scripture about  faith. "Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see" (Hebrews 11:1). When we suffer and have faith we can hope for victory over our suffering. We can feel certain that it will come because of our faith in the resurrected Jesus. 

We must look at the suffering we endure as a mountain that can be moved by faith. "Have faith in God," Jesus answered. "I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea. And does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen. It will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours" (Mark 11:22-24). 

I would like to give one caution concerning Christian faith. Many Christians have prayed and had faith in miraculous cures. If the loved one died or the illness continued many were told that their faith was not real or strong. Some grieving persons have been made to feel that God is powerless or God does not love them. I believe based on my experiences and faith that God loves his creation.

I believe that our faith is in the relationship as opposed to the circumstance. In that way, if your loved one dies as man is destined to do, our faith in God tells us that He will suffer with us and send the Holy Comforter to comfort us. "fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrew12: 2). 

As Christians we live our lives believing in the promise of a new life in the future when “Christ is all and in all” (Col. 3:11). The future does not lie ahead for the Christian, it is here already because of Christ. This gives us faith and hope to endure based on God’s love.

In summary, Christ is a great consolation to those who suffer. Christ died on the cross to save us. The redemptive act in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ gained the victory over life and death. The work of Christ on the cross is to deliver us from suffering, corruption, and death. Christ’s death is to be understood as a demonstration of the love of God.

The theme of hope can be found throughout the New Testament. Among the biblical responses to suffering and hope, Paul’s response is very impressive. Paul makes a distinction between two dimensions  of suffering as suffering at the hands of human injustice and suffering at the hands of the power of death. Beker states that Paul combines a prophetic and apocalyptic response to suffering. Paul’s response to human injustice evokes a prophetic response. He calls the church to redemptive suffering in the world.

Paul gives an apocalyptic response to the power of death. His response is grounded in the knowledge that God has victory over death because of Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection. God’s triumph will forever defeat the evil power of death and suffering.  

For Jurgen Moltmann, Christian theology provides a vision of hope through the transforming work of God which stands in sharp contrast to secular ideas of hope that maintains and upholds faith and keeps it moving on. "If it is hope that draws believers into the life of love, then it will be hope that is the mobilizing and driving force of faith’s thinking of its knowledge of and reflections as human nature, history, and society" (McGrath, 2001).

Christ can be a great consolation during our times of individual and or corporate suffering. The Holy Spirit, which Lives in every Christian, gives us new energy during prayer and worship. Although Christ sends the Holy Spirit to comfort us during the storms of life, because we are fully human consolation does not always come right away. We can, however, have faith that joy will be restored because of our relationship with Christ. When we as Christians focus on love, faith and hope, Christ can be a great consolation to suffering.

Works Cited

Beker, Christian, Suffering and Hope. Grand Rapids. Michigan” Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987.

Cone, James H.  A Black Theology of Liberation. Maryknoll, New York : Orbis Books, 1997.

Graham, Jack.  A Hope And a Future. Moody Press, Chicago, Illinois, 2002.

Lambredt, Jan and Collins, Raymond F. God and Human Suffering. Peters Press, Louvan 1989.

McGrath, Alister E. Christian Theology: An Introduction, Blackwell Publishing, University of Oxford, 2001.

Michiels, Robert, Jesus and Suffering-The Suffering of Jesus.

Moberly, Elizabeth, Suffering, Innocent and Guilty. Holy Trinity Church, London, 1978.

Schmidt, Frederick W. Jr.  When Suffering Persists. Moorehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pa, 2001.

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Sister Grief: Defined and Conquered in Jesus

By Yvonne Terry-Lewis

"Sister Grief: Defined and Conquered in Jesus" is an engaging book that confronts the universal experience of living with death and dying. The author personifies the personal loss of loved ones as "Sister Grief." The book, partly autobiographical, provides a holistic plan for conquering grief through faith, through a special relationship with Jesus. This plan is designed to help navigate one through the grieving process. The book includes personal stories, poetry, testimonials, letters, practical suggestions, and strategies based on a love for the divinity in one's life. Although the circumstances that cause grief may be sad, this book is filled with love, encouragement, and hope that lead one towards spiritual health and wholeness.

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AALBC.com's 25 Best Selling Books


 

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#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

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#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

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1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

By Charles C. Mann

I’m a big fan of Charles Mann’s previous book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, in which he provides a sweeping and provocative examination of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. It’s exhaustively researched but so wonderfully written that it’s anything but exhausting to read. With his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of The Columbian Exchange and, I’m proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer), Mann has written nothing less than the story of our world: how a planet of what were once several autonomous continents is quickly becoming a single, “globalized” entity.

Mann not only talked to countless scientists and researchers; he visited the places he writes about, and as a consequence, the book has a marvelously wide-ranging yet personal feel as we follow Mann from one far-flung corner of the world to the next. And always, the prose is masterful. In telling the improbable story of how Spanish and Chinese cultures collided in the Philippines in the sixteenth century, he takes us to the island of Mindoro whose “southern coast consists of a number of small bays, one next to another like tooth marks in an apple.” We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato, tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue to do so until we are finally living on one integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth. Whether or not the human instigators of all this remarkable change will survive the process they helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and revelatory book, an open question.

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The Persistence of the Color Line

Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency

By Randall Kennedy

Among the best things about The Persistence of the Color Line is watching Mr. Kennedy hash through the positions about Mr. Obama staked out by black commentators on the left and right, from Stanley Crouch and Cornel West to Juan Williams and Tavis Smiley. He can be pointed. Noting the way Mr. Smiley consistently “voiced skepticism regarding whether blacks should back Obama” . . .

The finest chapter in The Persistence of the Color Line is so resonant, and so personal, it could nearly be the basis for a book of its own. That chapter is titled “Reverend Wright and My Father: Reflections on Blacks and Patriotism.”  Recalling some of the criticisms of America’s past made by Mr. Obama’s former pastor, Mr. Kennedy writes with feeling about his own father, who put each of his three of his children through Princeton but who “never forgave American society for its racist mistreatment of him and those whom he most loved.”  His father distrusted the police, who had frequently called him “boy,” and rejected patriotism. Mr. Kennedy’s father “relished Muhammad Ali’s quip that the Vietcong had never called him ‘nigger.’ ” The author places his father, and Mr. Wright, in sympathetic historical light.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

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