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Suffering and Glory
November 10, 2011
Here we are at the very end of another Christian classic. As of today we’ve come to the thirteenth and final chapter of John Stott’s classic work The Cross of Christ. He closes the book with a chapter titled “Suffering and Glory.”
Suffering & Glory
“The fact of suffering undoubtedly constitutes the single greatest challenge to the Christian faith, and has been in every generation. Its distribution and degree appear to be entirely random and therefore unfair. Sensitive spirits ask if it can possibly be reconciled with God’s justice and love.” So this is not only a challenge for today (though certainly it is a distinct challenge) but a challenge for every day. The challenge of those who plead suffering as their foremost objection to the Christian faith is not new.
Sott says, “The problem of suffering is far from being of concern only to philosophers. It impinges upon nearly all of us personally; few people go through life entirely unscathed.” He goes on to state, “It needs to be said at once that the Bible supplies no thorough solution to the problem of evil, whether ‘natural’ evil or ‘moral,’ that is, whether in the form of suffering or sin. Its purpose is more practical than philosophical. Consequently, although there are references to sin and suffering on virtually every page, its concern is not to explain their origin but to help us overcome them.” His object in this chapter, then, is to explore the relationship between the cross of Christ and our sufferings.
By way of introduction, he mentions the standard arguments about suffering: suffering is an alien intrusion into God’s good good world; suffering is often due to sin; suffering is due to our human sensitivity to pain; suffering is due to the kind of environment in which God has placed us.
But the heart of the chapter goes to six possible answers to the questions related to the cross and our pain: What is the relationship between Christ’s sufferings and ours and how does the cross speak to us in our pain? His answers “rise gradually from the simplest to the most sublime.”
- The cross of Christ is a stimulus to patient endurance.
- The cross of Christ is the path to mature holiness.
- The cross of Christ is the symbol of suffering service.
- The cross of Christ is the hope of final glory.
- The cross of Christ is the ground of a reasonable faith.
- The cross of Christ is the proof of God’s solidary love.
I cannot hope to summarize those in just a few words, so I will leave it to you to read the chapter. Let me share just a few choice quotes:
“Christians in every generation have gained from the sufferings of Jesus, which culminated in the cross, the inspiration to bear undeserved pain patiently, without either complaining or hitting back.”
“If suffering was the means by which the sinless Christ became mature, we in our sinfulness need it that much more.”
“It is the hope of glory that makes suffering bearable. The essential perspective to develop is that of the eternal purpose of God, which is to make us holy or Christlike.”
The Next Book
Stay tuned and I’ll announce another classic in the weeks to come. If you’ve got some ideas about freshening up reading classics, I’m very eager for input.
The purpose of this program is to read these books together. If you have something to say, whether a comment or criticism or question, feel free to use the comment section for that purpose.