Comfort as an Enemy
“For those of us who have not yet experienced suffering, how do we trust God with the suffering that we know is on the Horizon. When we do not trust him with what is to come, what does clinging to comfort of our life and fearing the unknown do to our faith and trust in His promise of salvation?”
At the age of twenty-one, the closest I have seen of suffering was in the loss of the family dog, and that is not very close. A few Sundays ago, my church's New Testament Character study brought us to Paul, a man who knew nothing but a life of suffering for Christ’s sake. I dismissed this sermon before it even began, and quietly counted myself lucky to have not yet had to experience these pains of a fallen world. Yet, as the pastor began to dive into the life of Paul, he illustrated a man who counted suffering as gain. What a blow to the well-protected life of a millennial. We are known as the generation of participation trophies. Many of our parents have over-responded to a collapsing culture desiring to destroy our innocence, by helicoptering and shielding us from all possibilities of suffering. Many of us who have grown up in the church and barely had to suffer through boo boo’s without Neosporin and a Band-aid, much less the death, beatings, shipwrecks, or imprisonment that characterized Paul’s life.
Without any perspective, or even understanding of suffering, it is hard to find ourselves willing of this kind of risk-all faith. The fact that I have only attended one funeral of a family member is a blessing in the eyes of the world. Yet, Paul would ask, am I willing to lose, to suffer, to hurt, for the sake of the cross, because my life has been characterized as anything but that. I have spent the last three years of my life at a top 25 university, in an apartment with air condition, heating, and hot water. I have a car that transports me the three miles to and from campus. I have never gone a day without a decent meal. I put ice cubes in my drinks. I bathe once a day, usually. I can walk to my refrigerators and find a fresh meal. I drink filtered water, and I do not know life without these comforts.
The pastor explained, “when you are unprepared and unwilling to suffer for the sake of Christ, suffering is a threat to the life you have built.” This struck a deep-chord within me, as the night before listening to the sermon, I had questioned my life once death intrudes. On the way home from a family vacation, I was struck paralyzed thinking about life without my parents. I am not an anxious person, and worry rarely penetrates the well-built walls that I have constructed to protect my life of comfort. Yet, on this rare occasion, I could not shake the thought of losing the ones I love most. How will I go on? Who will I turn to with my concerns and questions? Who will I call when loneliness strives to overcome my joy? The pastor's words brought these questions back into my mind, and I was struck by the fact that Jesus should have been the answer to all of these questions. Yet, because He was not, I was at a loss. My distrust in His love for me, His protection, His promise of an eternity with Him, left my heart vulnerable to the power of worldly fears.
But, even more disturbing, was the power this fear had on me. It was almost all-consuming. It was fear that I could not survive such suffering, much less allow it or embrace it to be used for God to bring glory to himself. The pastor continued and explained that depending on our response to suffering, it can either bring glory to the Lord, or to the devil.
This past year, I visited Jinga, Uganda with Clemson FCA. I was awestruck to find a people there that did not need clean water, decent facilities, in most cases, even food, to find reason to be joyful. They sang and danced without fear. With an presidential election in the following month, many of the adults of the area knew that violence would accompany whatever outcome. Yet, they sang and danced on. It was a joy that I could not understand. They had seen destruction, experienced death, some had even seen first hand the effects of a fallen world through life as a child soldier under Joseph Kony’s command. Their children had no clothes and swollen bellies. Still they raised a joyful song to the savior that brought them hope.
I am unable to speak on this with expertise. I do not know suffering. But, what I do know, is that suffering for me, and those Millennials like me, is on the horizon. The life of comfort is one that will not sustain. In fact, Paul tells us that our comfort, our relationships that we treasure, our plans for the future, our ice cubes that make our drinks so delightfully cold, should be counted as garbage. The comfort that I worship should be garbage. It’s inability to sustain me is further described in 2 Corinthians as Paul explains to the church of Corinth that he delights in trials, weaknesses, insults, hardships, and persecutions, because he knows that only the grace of God is sufficient. He has joy because though comfort is temporary and fleeting, this grace that we find only in the Father, will sustain into eternity. It is Christ’s power, His redemption, His grace that will far outlast any comfort or suffering we experience here on earth. So we will endure and hold on, because we will not suffer as a people without hope.