Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Thankfulness in Suffering

"Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven," (Matthew 5:10, KJV).  Calvin, as Christ did, tells us that we should take comfort in suffering persecution for righteousness.  Interestingly, he even says that this applies not only to those who are defending the gospel, but those who in any way are maintaining the cause of righteousness.  For when we suffer for righteousness, God blesses us.  "But when the favor of our God breathes upon is, every one of these things (poverty, misery, exile, contempt, prison, disgrace, and even death) turns into happiness for us." 

When we are suffering under the cross, "we are too ungrateful if we do not willingly and cheerfully undergo these things at the Lord's hand."  When we look at our suffering from a worldly point of view, we see only the downside.  We see the misery and despair.  When we recognize that our suffering is part of God's plan to conform us to the image of His Son, we become thankful and cheerful that He has chosen us for growth.  I often find myself praying to recognize God's hand in the midst of suffering.  I pray this for myself and I pray it for others when they are going through their own struggles.  Once I can recognize God's hand in my struggles, I become thankful because I know He is using these times for my growth and enrichment.  I can then face them willingly and cheerfully.  But Calvin does warn against being like the "new Stoics" who show no emotion.  For even Christ "groaned and wept both over his own and others' misfortunes."  Aren't we called to be like Him?

Calvin speaks of a "double will" that exists in the face of adversity.  The example he uses is with Peter, who suffered death for being a Christian.  He knew that his martyrdom would glorify God, but it is still hard to willingly be led to your death.  Unlike the Stoics, we believe that it is okay to feel and even show emotion, as long as it does not overtake us so that we act rashly.  As long as we recognize God's will in our suffering, we will not succumb to our emotions.  "But the conclusion will always be: the Lord so willed, therefore let us follow his will."

Finally, Calvin compares patience between philosophic and Christian understanding.  In a nutshell, the philosophers which Calvin is referring to believe that we must obey God and endure suffering because "it must be so."  Scripture, according to Calvin, teaches that we should have a different understanding of God's will for us.  First, we should see God's will as "righteousness and equity."  Then we should see God's will as "concern for our own salvation."  It is through suffering that we grow in Him.  It is through this that we are assured of our salvation.  "...our most merciful Father consoles us also in this respect when he asserts that in the very act of afflicting us with the cross he is providing for our salvation."  It is then with thanksgiving and praise to God that we bear the tribulations that our brought upon us, because we know that it is for our ultimate good.

Tomorrow's reading: 3.9.1-3.9.6

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