Suffering and our Image of God

The Parable of the Talents

The parable tells of three servants who were each given talents to work with. While the first two doubled their lot, the last one buried it on the ground and falsely accused their master of “harvesting where he hadn’t ploughed.” His suffering was because of a wrong perception of his master. Remember, others had even more responsibility than him. Simply put, he didn’t believe in his master. Unbelief, in this line of understanding, is the refusal to allow God into our minds so that he can work his omnipotence. His omnipotence is limited by our unbelief, our lack of allowing him into our mind, a space that the devil is constantly working to occupy and distort our image of the ‘giver of our talents.’

John 10:10 vs John 8:44
In the above verses, our image of God is clarified. Jesus indicates that God, himself, gives life in abundance while Satan is the liar and the father of lies whose work is to destroy, murder, steal and lie. Evil, therefore, does not come from God. It is the devil who lies to us in order to destroy our image and thus our relationship with God. God wants our good so much so that he is willing to take the pain of our own sin on himself. Our sin, which makes our lives so miserable, comes from our freedom and the father of lies who plants doubt in us about God.

Types of Suffering

1. Unnecessary Suffering
Any kind of suffering that does not lead us to God needs to be eliminated or healed. Jesus healed this kind of suffering and never once did he say that one needs to be suffering in this manner in order to be saved.
2. Necessary Suffering – The Cross
This is like the suffering of Christ. It is the suffering of the missionaries as they went to spread the Gospel. God does not will us to have cancer or be heartbroken (unnecessary suffering); He does not need it nor does He will it. However, we can take this unnecessary suffering and transform it into a cross by offering it to God who redeems it and uses it for good. But just because He does that does not mean He wanted us to suffer in the first place.
3. The Suffering of the Saints
The suffering of Christ is again represented here; A suffering that the sufferer finds worth it for the furthering of God’s kingdom. It is the suffering of those who are specially chosen to fight the devil in some intense form. When you meet such a person suffering in this manner, you might initially be sympathetic but the way they face their suffering leaves a mark on you; such people are calm, peaceful, and joyful and they end up encouraging you, who is not suffering. Whereas evil and suffering are a mystery at some level, suffering, never willed by God, if offered to God, can be transformative. It is the suffering of Job and Tobit.

The Punishment of God

Punishment in the scriptures goes to the fourth generation whereas blessings to the thousandth! Therefore, God is more about blessings than punishing. But does God punish us? It seems that God is like a mother who warns a child from touching fire and the child does it anyway and gets burnt. Can such a child say that it is the mother who is punishing him or her with the pain? Obviously not. Think of someone who goes to buy a gadget of considerable worth and the seller or manufacturer gives the buyer a user’s manual. The buyer doesn’t bother to use the manual which he/she promptly discards. Once the gadget breaks down, the buyer starts blaming the manufacturer or seller for punishing him for not using the manual. Would that be fair? Wasn’t the manual for the good of the buyer? It is so with God. What we experience as the punishment of God is often a consequence of our own false use of freedom or that of our neighbour. And that is why evangelization becomes important so that each person uses their freedom well because when one sins, their sins not only affect them but also everyone around them. It is like when someone doesn’t take a bath or shower. It not only is bad for them but also quite uncomfortable for everyone around them.

Jesus and Temporal Punishment

Temporal punishment relates to the punishment before we die. The most interesting idea in this part is the importance of clarifying between God who blesses and the punishment that comes from deviating from His Word. This is a key point that the author emphasizes on: In the Bible, when there are blessings to be given, God is the subject but when there is perishing involved, God is NOT the subject. It goes like this, “If you follow God’s word, He will bless you but if you do not, you will perish.” Not that He will make you perish but the perishing is in not following His word and not His direct activity. Jesus clarifies this powerfully when He reveals the Father to us. Not a single instance in the Gospels does He refer to His Father as one who punishes and neither does He threaten to punish anyone. When the disciples wanted to call fire on a village that didn’t welcome Jesus (Lk 9), He strongly rebuked them. This is important. God is one who blesses. Perishing is simply a consequence of not following His Will which He never imposes.
It is more apt to say that in both our individual lives and that of our families, it is our choices for evil, and our deals with the devil that has terrible consequences both for us and in our family tree. The scriptures are clear that the sins of the parents do indeed affect their children and their children’s children. However, God is a God of Mercy and sincere repentance, turning back to Him, can bring healing. Repentance is literally opening a closed door to God (caused by our choice for sin/evil) so that He can do His work of blessing our lives. However, our choices can have serious consequences in this life and a permanent separation from God in the next. God doesn’t punish, He only accepts the destiny that we freely choose and delivers us to it.

The Will of God

So, if God does not punish or cause us to perish? What is the Will of God? So many times, during burials and natural calamities, it is not unusual to hear people say that it is the Will of God. But that is so wrong according to this author and I couldn’t agree more. Let’s explore three major statements or claims in the Bible:
1. Satan comes to steal, kill and destroy.
2. God gives life and life abundantly
3. In Genesis 3, the sin of Adam and Eve resulted in a warped nature, “cursed is the ground because of you,” God tells Adam.
4. Jesus calms the storm in Mark 4.
These four statements mean this, wherever life is stolen, killed, or destroyed, that is NEVER the work of God. He accepts it but never wills it.
The nature of God is to give life. Therefore, destruction and death belong to their author, Satan.
Even natural calamities that destroy, still belong to Satan. Nature became warped and tends to turn on itself and destroy us because our sin affected it and it too “ awaits with eager expectation, the revelation of the children of God; it too groans in labour pains for redemption (Rom. 8). Moreover, if Satan could deceive us human beings who have a brain, how easy is it to manipulate nature? Jesus calming the storm in the Bible means that that storm was not the work of God His Father otherwise, He would have either contradicted His Father or was simply trying to show off His power and that would be lying, an activity of the evil one and not of God.
As a consequence, when we claim, in the face of evil, suffering, and natural calamities, that it is the Will of God, we infer on God, activities that are against His nature, and the devil smiles. He smiles because he manages to convince us that God is a sadist who sends us storms and kills small babies. This leads us to lose our faith in Him, our source and strength, which makes us easy prey to Satan. Remember, the Bible calls Satan cunning. He will do anything to make us DOUBT the love of God the father of Jesus who WEEPS with us in the face of pain and suffering that He never willed for us. If you want to destroy someone, separate them from their source of strength. That is what lions do with Zebras. And that is exactly the devil’s game.
If you look at Isaiah 11 and also 65, he speaks of a time when carnivores and herbivores will live together peacefully, where a child and a cobra won’t be enemies. What this means is that when we see these things happening today (carnivores eating herbivores and children being bitten by snakes), even though we call them natural, that is not their original supernatural state. They will be redeemed but their redemption seems tied to our redemption because they were made for us. Nature, like us, has a tendency to sin (which means to ‘miss the mark’) because it too has been corrupted by our sin and the deception of the father of lies.
In short, it is time to think of God as “the blesser” and never the “punisher.” This will free our minds and increase our Hope in Him. That He never, ever wants to punish you and me but to bless us and that when we suffer, it is never Him. Ever.

 

From: The healing of Families – How to pray effectively for those stubborn personal and familial problems – Fr. Yozefu Balikuddembe Ssemakula
Chapter Two – Suffering and Our Image of God

2 comments

  1. Avatar
    September 21, 2022 at 10:06 am
    Carmen

    Thanks for this thought provoking piece.
    In my life I have learnt that *suffering is indeed transformative* … through it I have learnt perseverence, understanding, tolerance, empathy, and via various experiences received kindness which learnt to give to others and I’m able to share my experiences to give others hope.

  2. Avatar
    September 21, 2022 at 9:56 pm
    Harriet

    Thanks.It is so powerful to learn that God wants only the best for us.That it is our sinful nature leads us to most suffering that we are experiencing in our lives.

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