BIBLE STUDIES ON SUFFERING

Copyright Rosemary Bardsley 2002

5. SUFFERING AND HOPE

The Bible is an extremely honest book. It portrays human life in all the stark and horrible reality of its sinfulness and suffering. God knows we suffer. We need only to study the parables of Jesus with this thought in mind, and we will be surprised how many of them are actually based on our real sin and our real suffering. And, knowing this saturation of suffering in which human life is in this abnormal, in-between, world is lived out, knowing the extreme pathos of human existence between the fall and the consummation, God, in his great compassion and grace, gives us words of hope.

A. In Genesis 3:

Right from the first entry of sin and suffering into our world, God in his kindness and grace gave his word of hope. We see this in:

  1. The prophecy of the crosswork of Jesus Christ the Son of God, in which Satan is defeated: Genesis 3:15.
  2. His provision of a covering for Adam and Eve, which anticipates the covering of our sin by the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ: Genesis 3:21.
  3. The non-destruction of the tree of life: Genesis 3:23-24. Instead of destroying this tree, and thereby indicating that the hope of eternal life was now completely and forever denied us without any possibility of reprieve, God left the tree there. We were barred from it, but it was still there. Through the work of Christ on the cross, the barrier has been removed ? as indicated in God's tearing the temple curtain (on which golden cherubim were embroidered) from top to bottom at the moment when Christ was dying as our substitute.

B. The covenants:

Each of the covenants God made with Old Testament people contains a definite element of hope. Study the following and identify the hope contained in them.

  1. The covenant with Noah (Genesis 9:1-17).
  2. The covenant with Abraham (Genesis 12:3; 17:1-14; 22:15-18).
  3. The covenant with Israel on Sinai (Exodus 19,20).
  4. The covenant with David (Psalm 89:3,4,27-37; 132:11-18; Isaiah 11; 55:3,4).
  5. The new covenant (Isaiah 44:1-5; Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:24ff; Hosea 2:16-23).

C. The over-riding expectation of the Old Testament.

The whole of the Old Testament stands on tiptoe anticipation the coming of the Saviour of the world, the Son of God who would undo the effects of sin and the curse. This grand and over-riding hope can be seen:

[1] In historical shadows. In historical events recorded in the Old Testament (for example, Noah's family's preservation in the ark, the exodus from Egypt, the entry into the promised land under Joshua's leadership) are massive historic-prophetic messages of hope. They reveal a God actively at work for the good and the salvation of his people, and speak ultimately of the absolute spiritual rescue-liberation package which God had planned before the creation of the earth to effect through Jesus Christ.

[2] In ritual and ceremony . The lengthy and involved ritual and ceremonial laws given to the people of Israel shortly after their liberation from Egypt are no arbitrary matter, no ritual for the sake of ritual. They, like the history, are visible, tangible, ever in-your-face messages of hope. Without exception they point forward to the person and work of Jesus Christ. As the letter to the Hebrews extensively points out, as Paul indicates in Colossians 2:16-17; as Jesus himself indicated in Luke 24 and John 5:33-47, all of the Old Testament scriptures speak about him. In this way God surrounded his people with hope and expectation. Every time they performed their rituals and ceremonies these rituals and ceremonies were meant to whisper, no, to shout, to them that the Saviour of the world was coming.

[3] In straight prophecy . We could look almost anywhere in the Old Testament, but check our these passages from Isaiah: 9:1-7; 11:1-16; 12:1-6; 16:5; 33:17-24; 35:1-10; 42:1-16; 43:1-13; 43:14-21; 49:8-12; 51:3-6,11; 52:7-10; 57:13; 60:1-22; 61:1-11; 62:1-12; 65:13-25.

[4] In praise and worship, and prayer.

[1] Psalms: Only a few Psalms (8,15,19,24,45,47,65,67,84,87,93, 96,98,100,111,114,117,122,128, 133, 134, & 150) have no relation to suffering. Read any other and you will find the Psalmist either praying to the Lord in the hope and expectation of deliverance from suffering, or praising the Lord because of his ability to deliver from suffering. The Psalms are thus intimately involved in the whole question of suffering, and have particular relevance to suffering and hope, and also to suffering and the faithfulness of God. Any person burdened with suffering is advised to read the Psalms, preferably out loud, and to there make contact with the God who understands our suffering, and is, in our suffering, a source of comfort, strength and hope.

[2] For other OT examples of suffering and hope expressed in praise and worship, read Isaiah 25:1-12 and 26:1-21

D. In the Teaching of Jesus:

To source just a few of the instances of hope in the teaching of Jesus Christ, study the following:

  1. Our heavenly Father is still caring for us (Matthew 6:25-34).
  2. That he leaves the 'weeds' among the 'wheat' is evidence of his care and mercy (Matthew 13:24-30).
  3. There is a time coming when the 'weeds' will be removed (Matthew 13:37-43; also 47-50).
  4. There is a resurrection (Matthew 22:23-32).
  5. All of his enemies will be put under his feet (Matthew 22:44).
  6. He will come again in power (Matthew 26:64).
  7. He has gone to prepare a place (John 14:1-4).
  8. We are not alone (John 14:18).
  9. He gives peace and joy (John 14:27; 16:19-24).

E. The miracles of Jesus

The miracles of Jesus demonstrate that it is he who is the King - not sin, not death, not suffering, not Satan. At the word of the King sickness, deformity, evil spirits - all have to flee. In these miracles we have not only the validation of who Jesus is but also the validation and the promise and the anticipation of what it will be like in heaven: at his word all suffering and sadness will flee away.

F. The teaching of the Apostles

In the messages of the apostles hope and suffering exist together. From this we understand that we must not expect to be exempt from suffering in this life. Where there is no suffering there is no need for hope. It is only when 'that which is perfect is come' and that which is imperfect has disappeared forever, that hope will lose its importance and significance. The apostles teach us:

  1. In God's time everything will be restored (Acts 3:19-21; 1Peter 5:10; Revelation 7:15-17; 21:4,5,27;22:1-6).
  2. Our hope is sometimes the cause of our suffering (Acts 28:20).
  3. Hope exists in the presence of contradiction (Romans 4:18ff).
  4. Hope and suffering exist together (Romans 5:1-5; Hebrews 10:32-39).
  5. Hope in the midst of suffering is generated by the indwelling Spirit (Romabs 8: 10,11, 14-17, 18-27; 15:13).
  6. Hope recognizes that creation will also be liberated (Romans 8:18-27).
  7. Hope motivates joy in the presence of suffering (Romans 12:12; 2Corinthians 7:4-7; 1Peter 4:12-19).
  8. Hope motivates godly behaviour (Romans 13:8-14; Hebrews 12:1-3; 1Peter 1:13).
  9. Hope is based on Christ's resurrection and anticipates our resurrection (1Cor 15:12-58; Phil 3:20-21; 1Thess 4:13-18; 1Peter 1:3-7.
  10. Hope is focused on the unseen (2Cor 4:13-18; 2 Cor 5:1-10; Phil 3:20-21; Hebrews 11:13-16,39-40; 13:14).
  11. Hope anticipates rewards (Ephesians 6:8; Philippians 3:10-14; 1Thessalonians 2:17-20; 2Timothy 4:6-8; James 1:12; 1Peter 5:1).
  12. Hope expects the Lord's return (James 5:7,8; 2Peter 3:3-18).