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
Many agree that the story of the Syrophoenician woman is one of the toughest passages to interpret in the Bible. In the account, Jesus meets a Gentile woman in the region of Tyre who begs Jesus to heal her daughter from possession by a demon. Jesus responds by saying, “First let the children eat all they want…for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs” (Mark 7:27). The woman wisely replies “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs” (Mark 7:28). Jesus commends the woman for her response and heals the woman’s daughter.
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
It’s a well-known story. Jesus and his disciples are crossing over to the other side of the lake. Jesus falls asleep in the boat. A furious storm breaks out over the sea. The boat fills with water and Jesus remains asleep. Panicked, the disciples cry out to Jesus. He wakes and calms the storm. After Jesus quiets the wind and the waves, he turns to his disciples and says “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” So why this rebuke from Jesus? Why does he criticize the disciples? What, precisely, is Jesus bothered with? I’m finding this passage absolutely fascinating because I think there is something really subtle going on that I have just noticed for the first time. 35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” 39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. 40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no … Read More
Paul’s statement that ‘To live is Christ and to die is gain’ is one of the boldest sentences in Scripture. As Christians, it’s a passage that we often quote and that we readily intellectually assent to; however, most of us—if honest—sense that we are not really living it the way that Paul was. Our lives (time, money, passion) are not wholly given over to serving; and we do not face death fearlessly, longing for union with God. I’ve wanted to really understand these words. And as someone who now has an illness, I feel it’s imperative. This statement of Paul is found in the book of Philippians, which though a short letter, has some of the most recognized and poetic passages in the Bible. And much to my surprise, when I took a deeper look, I found that this book is all about suffering. So why does Paul write an entire letter addressing suffering?