Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Recycling Suffering into Peace


This small paper bag's contents are all that remains of my faithful sewing machine. The machine that served me so well was diagnosed with a broken shaft. This diagnosis is the sewing machine equivalent of a broken leg for a horse. When I went to pick up my unfixable friend, I noticed a sign about recycling hanging on the shop wall. I was able to empty the bobbin drawer and leave the machine behind. I like the idea that the metal from my machine might be reborn into some other useful tool. I hope that in her second life, she receives better care. She was a faithful servant who helped my daughter create beautiful formal gowns for dances, repaired my husband's and son's clothes, and provided me with much stress-relieving activity during grad school and covid.

The human version of recycling is, of course, reincarnation. I don't believe in reincarnation, but I can see its appeal. It might be easier for us to tolerate suffering when we can imagine a better life next time around. The sufferer is also comforted at the thought that his persecutors might find themselves in a less enjoyable life. When we suffer, especially at the hands of others, we want an explanation, and furthermore, we want our brand of justice to prevail. Yes, reincarnation is a logical man-made solution to suffering, but its lack of truth leaves us empty.

Our pastors are preaching on the seven letters for Lenten services. This week we hear about Smyrna, a community that persecuted its Christians from several sides. Here is part of their letter:

Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death. Revelation 2: 10-11

 In this letter, Jesus does not promise the church relief from suffering. Instead, He predicts more suffering. This message is not the kind of justice we have in mind! When we suffer, we want comfort and a promise of relief, not a prediction of ten more days of something that is likely to be worse. 

Yet, even in this response, we see God's benevolence. God is bigger than our suffering. He knows what we are experiencing and what we are losing, and He knows how long it will last. He also has a plan for that suffering. We will not experience a second death but live forever with Him. Oh, and many of those who persecuted us will be with us in heaven, as will those who received ill-treatment from us. What kind of justice is that?

It is not justice; it's justification. The crown of life is not justice because it is not the punishment we deserve. It is an unimaginable grace. The crown is ours because of Jesus' death and resurrection.

Our suffering draws us close to Christ, and He sends the Spirit to pray on our behalf. The Spirit is not concerned with who or what is persecuting us. The Spirit is concerned with our faith. Our suffering does not promise a second chance at a better earthly life. That is the kind of goal devised by the human mind. Our suffering promises us a perfect life that will never end.

I look forward to hearing the Word tonight at Lenten services. I will listen to my pastor's teaching and let God recycle my weariness into His peace and joy.

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