When we are experiencing suffering or trials, the suffering itself is often not the cause of our pain. The cause of our pain may be more related to our perspective of that suffering. It is a question of size. When we experience a setback or tragedy it becomes far too easy for our problem to balloon to an irrational size, overwhelming everything else in our lives. As our problem grows in size, we shrink, and feel overpowered by it. In this state, the comforting words of a friend to “stand firm” are typically received with thanks, but are of little practical use. In this state of despair what we need is not necessarily a power to remove the suffering, but something powerful enough to restructure our perspective. What we need in these moments is something bigger than our suffering.
For many, the primary purpose of the Bible is comfort in times of suffering and helpful hints in times of confusion. This approach to the word of God is not only mistaken, but is a travesty when one understands the why we were given the Bible. This misuse of the word of God is the equivalent of using a brand-new Porsche to haul firewood. The purpose of the word of God is not to comfort us or instruct us. The purpose of the word of God is to define us. The word of God, from Genesis to Revelation, is that very thing that can restructure our perspective, providing us the hope and strength we require in order to persevere through and over our suffering. The word of God is big. It is not only big in the sense that God is big and if he is in control then we can have nothing to fear. It is big in that from the beginning God has included us, along with billions of others, in his family, the family he has protected with his life. The word of God not only gives us a starting point that validates the desires of our heart and the longings of our souls, it gives us the way that so many have walked before us— and prevailed. The word of God is not stories and lessons to learn from. The word of God is our story. It is our story because it is his, and he made us. The word of God gives us hope in standing firm that goes beyond good advice. It grants us the perspective of creation and transformation, which began with God and is continually brought about by God. In the face of the suffering of this world, the magnitude of God and our place alongside him has the ability to reduce any and all trials we face. If God is for us, then who can be against us? If God is with us, what problem can ever overwhelm us?
We live in a world of abundant and overpowering distractions. Take a moment to count how many different voices are calling out to you to do, to see, to go, to buy, etc. Sadly, the God of all creation has a tendency to blend too easily into this crowd of voices. We are busy beings, trying to do as many things as we possibly can every day, week, month and year. Found within this busyness is, for many, a Sunday morning church service. Within this service is a language so grand and powerful that for an hour we forget the limitations of this world and our spirits are infused with a hopeful confidence that seems strong enough to do just about anything. Within that church we speak of God as the creator of the heavens and the earth. Within that church we speak of God as the first and the last and the beginning and the end. Within that church we speak of Jesus Christ as the redeemer who pays our debts and gives us rebirth.
This tone and these words are not normal. We often don’t use them outside of the church walls. In our daily lives we display an insultingly lackadaisical approach to the presence of that tone or the meaning of those words. Do we really understand what it means to say that he was the beginning and will be the end? Do we really understand what it means to profess faith and submit to the creator of the heavens and the earth? Do we really understand what it means when we bear the name of Christ? Are we truly identifying ourselves with the cross where Christ became the ransom for our sins? The truth of the Gospel is extreme. It is unreasonable and illogical to react to it in any other way. The reaction to the Gospel has to be extreme. Hearing its claims must move us to fall to our knees in complete submission. If we profess faith in the Gospel yet live in a way not far removed from the life that preceded the encounter with the Gospel, we have misunderstood that Gospel. If we profess faith in the God of the Bible and are yet convinced of our own power, or yet in control of the direction and course of our lives, we have misunderstood the Gospel. If we profess faith in the cross of Christ and continue to strive for perfection, to attain salvation through our personal record, we do not understand the Gospel.
The Gospel of Christ is extreme in its claims concerning the nature of the living God. This God does not need us for anything, nor does he have to listen to our opinions at all. However, he continues to use us, bless us, and listen to us because he loves us. The Gospel of Christ is extreme in its claims about the life and sacrifice of Christ. The message of the Cross does not give us new guidelines to improve our lives or free passes to find peace with the daily sins that plague us. The message of the Cross is that faith in the sacrifice of Jesus creates a being different from the old, that can never go back. There is always movement with the cross of Christ, but just as Christ carried his cross forward and never back, forward motion into deeper union with Christ is the only acceptable outcome of our faith. The Gospel is not just another idea, voice or message amongst the thousands of messages we receive on a daily basis. It is THE message. It is THE good news. To understand it for exactly what it claims requires us to broaden our scale of measurement to a point so big that at a certain point we disappear, and only Christ remains