Sunday, February 08, 2009

For the Sake of the Other

Sometimes we make jokes when someone's patience is tried: "Well, you prayed for patience, didn't you? What did you expect?" Or maybe we pray for humility, and then God sends situations that take away everything we're proud of, and we end up embarrassed. Or maybe we pray for contentment, and God sends poverty, and we end up learning that it's not possessions which instill contentment.

I have had Protestant friends tell me, "If you could just learn the lesson that God wants to teach you, then you could be done with this struggle." They essentially are saying that it works like this: a woman prays for patience, becomes the mother of an especially exuberant and strong-willed child, and begins to learn patience. But if she could just get patient faster, then God would be free to resolve the issue with her strong-willed kid. Somehow, it seems to me that this paints a false picture of a God. Somehow, it seems to me that this viewpoint is more consistent with the theology of glory than with the theology of the cross.

But even more than that, this kind of theology smacks of an American brand of individuality. I have a lesson to learn. God is teaching me this lesson. Once I learn my lesson, I can go on to a new lesson.

But we are one body of Christ. Sometimes things happen to us for the sake of someone else.

Pastors see these kinds of situations. Why does Grandpa Schmidt linger so long in the nursing home? Maybe there's something he needs to learn about dependence upon God alone. But maybe not. Maybe there's something his children and grandchildren need to do in caring for him. Why did Gary have his non-heart-attack? Because there was something for him to learn? Maybe, but I don't think so. It was because of that man who was his roommate in the hospital, the one who needed to be returned to the fold so that he might have a pastor in the last year of his life.

Sometimes our suffering is because of a work God is doing in someone else's life. It may not make sense to us; we probably cannot see what God is accomplishing. Whether or not we can discern God's reasons, no amount of "learning my lesson" is going to bring an end to my suffering in that case. We just have to be content that God knows what He's doing, even if I can't make sense of it.


  1. What an excellent post. I have had severe migraines and chronic headaches that required me to quit my job three years ago. At first, I kept looking for what God wanted to teach me so that I could learn it and make the headaches go away. I have learned quite a lot during this time, but one of the main things is that God is not obligated to let us in on His plans. My suffering may be for someone else's benefit or simply for God's glory as I continue to walk with Him. In any case, God is still God no matter how confused we are about His plan. Thanks again for the reminder.

    P.S. Love your blog!

  2. Thank you for the kind words, Catherine. I'm sorry to hear about the pain you endure and the loss of your job (which I'm sure benefited your patients greatly!), but thank God for the blessings He's given instead in the three years at home!

  3. All I seem to learn anymore from struggling, Susan, is that it is TRULY by the Grace of God alone that any good at all happens in this world. God blesses despite our efforts or lack of efforts because of who HE is.

    (ok you are making me cry now)
    I used to believe God was trying to teach me stuff...but now I just know that He wants to accomplish something beyond me. Sometimes I get to see what He is doing, sometimes I don't.

    What I was really trying to say was Amen. ;)