We tend to associate suffering with punishment or a curse but Acts chapter 5 presents a bold idea: that suffering is somehow a higher calling. Acts chapter 5 details an early persecution where the disciples are thrown into prison. This appears to be the first recorded incident in the entire Bible of the jailing of the disciples—something that would later become a frequent experience. As the story goes, the disciples left the Sanhedrin “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer” (Acts 5:41). Worthy to Suffer This phase in Acts begs the question: so what does it mean to be “counted worthy to suffer”? Is the text literally suggesting that the more worthy you are, the more likely it is that God will have you suffer? These are tough questions but fortunately there is a lot of material across multiple related New Testament narratives that can help us get closer to some understanding. Suffering of the Disciples in Acts The books of Acts details the suffering of the disciples at a number of time points. One of the most striking sections is Acts chapter 12, which details the execution of James and the arrest and deliverance of Peter. With regards to suffering, Acts 12 raises some interesting questions, namely: why did James die while Peter was saved? There’s a lot to explore here, but first, the passage: 1 About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. 2 He killed James the brother … Read More
I’ve noticed that being ill has helped me to read the Bible through a new lens. And consequently, passages that once seemed irrelevant to me, have taken on new meaning. In Mark 8:31-32, just after Peter states his belief that Jesus is the Christ, Jesus tries to tell his disciples that he will undergo rejection, suffering, and death. Clearly, Peter is envisioning a Christ whose reign is marked by power and success, and so Peter takes Jesus aside and begins to “rebuke” him. In response, Jesus tells Peter, “you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Mark 8:33). For the past couple of days, I have been thinking about Mark 8:33. How relevant it is to me! For like Peter, “things of man” is my framework for viewing the world, for making judgements and decisions. When my life is not a clear and straight upward trajectory, I despair and sense failure. The framework of men—the worldview of Peter and I—doesn’t involve suffering, being rejected, or dying (these are the very things in Mark 8:31 that Peter reacts against as Jesus announces them). Yet, Jesus insists that his soon coming suffering is a thing of God. For, paradoxically, whoever want to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will save it (Mark 8:35). I am reminded again that, in God’s worldview, losing is gaining and failing is winning. The central act of Jesus on this earth was to … Read More
The books of the Old Testament prophets can be so challenging to read that it’s easy to overlook the big concepts and the larger historical events that these books reference. I’ve been reading through the Old Testament books of Amos and Hosea lately and one of the most fascinating things to me about these men is that although they devoted their lives trying to save the people of northern Israel, they ultimately failed. What does it mean that God called Amos and Hosea to spend their entire lives doing something that was met with utter failure?