This past Sunday we began our Advent series on living with expectant hope in God’s promises. We considered how God equips Christians to live with hope in all seasons of life. Namely, we suffer 1) with our identity and worth secure, 2) with our faith in his word, 3) with our hope in his promises, 4) with the presence of his Spirit, and 5) with the fellowship of his people.
One of the results of all of this is that Christians don’t make it their life’s goal to be free of suffering. Our life is not defined by our suffering or lack thereof. The value of our life is not measured by our suffering or lack thereof.
Of course, it is natural to want to ease our pain and to make our lives easier. I don’t believe God calls us to go looking for suffering. But neither should we reject a course of action or decision or life plan because of the suffering it may bring. We shouldn’t desire suffering, but we should be content with the suffering God ordains, and should desire the growth and maturity it can bring.
Now, many people—Christian and not—recognize our culture’s fascination with comfort and pleasure and ease, and recognize that it has some problems. And so there is a version of this message that is popular in our culture, but which ignores God and the gospel. You have a push for simplicity (tiny homes, living off the grid, minimizing what we own); you have a push for serving and giving to others (often presented as a way to feel better about yourself); you have a push for doing hard things (extreme diets, extreme races like Spartan Race); you have a push for diversity and learning to live with people different than you (which is hard).
None of this is bad; most of it has some good to it. And it’s responding to a real problem: the thought that life is all about our pleasure, comfort and ease.
But apart from God and the gospel, it’s often just a form of self-salvation, of self-earned righteousness, of justifying ourselves. And it can be just as self-centered as living hedonistically for pleasure, comfort and ease.
The Christian view of suffering, in contrast, does not replace a selfish lust for comfort and ease with a selfish lust for feeling that we did something good. The Christian view of suffering replaces all selfish lusts with a love for God, and a contentment in God’s goodness, even in suffering.
In both suffering and plenty, a Christian lives a God-centered, God-directed life, rather than a self-centered, self-directed life. Which means suffering doesn’t devastate us, and success doesn’t define us.