Beloved brothers and sisters,
Loving greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
You’re probably thinking the title to this letter sounds presumptuous; so let me rephrase it: I know the “why” of my suffering.
I could never understand the why of the trials and sufferings of others, but I can empathize with them.
You often hear people ask, ‘Why did this happen to such a good brother? He was a pillar of his ecclesia. I just don’t understand why God would take him from us in his prime?’
The attitude of Job was, ‘I’ve done everything required and then some. Why should I suffer like this? I have served God, and suddenly I’ve lost everything. And now I’ve lost my health.’
We’ve all heard or said, ‘She didn’t deserve that. That’s not fair.’
We all know that Scripture tells us we must suffer for Christ, and life just isn’t fair. Our reward will be the Kingdom. No explanation is needed there. We accept this on the intellectual level and move on.
But why me?
God and His Son loved me enough to make me suffer.
I now know (on the experience level) that God loves me and counts me one of His servants worthy of a fellowship of suffering. I hope and pray that this does not sound egotistical, or that I have ascended to some higher and loftier spiritual plane than others. It certainly doesn’t mean, ‘Once saved, always saved’! It just means that one person’s faith has grown.
I now understand what Paul meant when he wrote: “We preach Christ crucified… Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” I understand: “The old man is crucified with him.” I understand, now: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” I understand now by experience the suffering and faith of those worthies mentioned in Hebrews 11. The suffering and self-sacrifice of our Lord and the apostles is a reality for me.
When our Lord was crucified, the Atonement was demonstrated. He lived to do his Father’s will. He was perfectly obedient, and he crucified the flesh daily. The cross was the crowning demonstration of the Atonement.
For the generations of those who couldn’t witness those glorious years of our Lord that culminated in his sacrificial death, God graciously provided us the New Testament.
The Christadelphian community as a whole has strayed from the principle of the Atonement. I’m not saying that there is complete failure, or that there are not individuals who practice the principles of the Atonement. What I am saying is that as a community we have failed.
We have spent endless hours formulating statements of faith, explanations of statements of faith, explanations of the explanations, position statements, and highly detailed expositions and policies. We have had bitter divisions in the body, which did not glorify God, nor did they honor the principles of the Atonement.
Let me say here that a statement of faith is important, that expositions are important, and that agreement on these principles is important. What I am saying is that all sides have been wrong in all of these controversies. Granted, somebody is ultimately ‘right’, but it is God who should have been shown to be right. When did that ever happen?
This contemporary example should suffice to illustrate what I mean by living the Atonement.
A sister, some years ago, donated a kidney to her brother, whose kidneys had failed. His transplanted kidney began to falter recently and he needed another transplant. This time his son donated his kidney to save his father. This is an example of living the Atonement. The son honored both his natural father and his Heavenly Father. The son was probably not able to give any detailed exposition of the Atonement — but he lived it.
I now know the why of suffering for me. He loves me enough to make me suffer, so that my faith may grow toward the end that I will be in His Kingdom. This has given me a “peace that passes all understanding.”
I can wholeheartedly thank Him for His love and grace toward me. No matter the outcome, I am at peace.
Suffering is about self-sacrifice, “crucifying the flesh”. It is about giving of time, money, talents and personal resources until it becomes a true self-sacrifice.
This isn’t about me. It’s all about God. So, I am at perfect peace with whatever comes.
With peace, love and grace to you all,
[In 2003, after a long and difficult struggle, Bro. Gary Burns died of leukemia. He was 56.]