Posted by: fatherof11 | July 18, 2007

Theology Matters – The Doctrine of Suffering

Getting back to the theology matters subject, I have been pondering how to say something that I have seen be a constant problem with families we have counseled. The problem is that they lack any doctrine of suffering. When life becomes difficult their first response is to run away giving up on the child that they have so recently adopted. Having found that, instead of a grateful child willing to obey because of the great sacrifice these parents have made, they have been given a sinful, angry child, they respond with something similar to “God surely wouldn’t want us to be this unhappy, would he?”

As I considered this I ran across the following quote from John Piper’s The Hidden Smile of God. He says well much of what I have want to say.
The Christian Life is Hill Difficulty

Bunyan’s life and labor call us to live like Pilgrim on the way to the Celestial City. His suffering and his story summon us, in the prosperous and pleasure-addicted West, to see Christian life in a radically different way than we ordinarily do. There is a great gulf between the Christianity that wrestles with whether to worship at the cost of imprisonment and death, and the Christianity that wrestles with whether the kids should play soccer on Sunday morning. The full title of The Pilgrim’s Progress shows the essence of the pilgrim path: “The Pilgrim’s Progress from this World, to that Which is to Come: Delivered under the Similitude of a Dream wherein Is Discovered, the Manner of His Setting out, his Dangerous Journey, and Safe Arrival at the Desired Country.” For Bunyan in fact and fiction, the Christian life is a “Dangerous Journey.”

The narrow way leads from the Wicket Gate to the Hill Difficulty.

The narrow way lay right up the hill, and the name of the going up the side of the hill is called Difficulty. Christian now went to the Spring, and drank thereof, to refresh himself (Isaiah 49:10), and then began to go up the Hill, saying,

The Hill, though high, I covet to ascend,
The Difficulty will not me offend;
For I perceive the Way to life lies here.
Come, pluck the Heart, let’s neither faint nor fear;
Better, though difficult, the Right Way go,
Than wrong, though easy, where the End is Woe

This is the Christian life for Bunyan – experienced in prison and explained in parables. But we modern, western Christians have some to see safety and ease as a right. We move away from bad neighborhood. We leave hard relationships. We don’t go to dangerous unreached people groups.

Bunyan beckons us to listen to Jesus and his apostles again. Jesus never called us to a life of safety, nor even to a fair fight. “Lambs in the midst of wolves” is the way he describes or sending (Luke 10:3). “If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign the members of his household!” (Matthew10:25). “He who loves his lifes loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal” (John 12:25). “Whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33, RSV).

The apostle Paul continues the same call: “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). We are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him” (Romans 8:17). We should not be “moved by … afflictions … [since] this it to be our lot” (1 Thessalonians 3:3 RSV). Faith and suffering are two great gifts of God: “To you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Philippians 1:29). The apostle Peter confirms the theme: “Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for the testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12). It isn’t strange. It’s normal. That is the message of The Pilgrim’s Progress. The Hill Difficulty is the only path to heaven. There is no other. Suffering is as normal as a father disciplining a son. That is how the writer to the Hebrews describes the suffering of the saints: “God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons” (Hebrews 12:7-8). The pattern is rooted in the Old Testament itself. So the psalmist says, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous” (Psalm 34:19; see Galatians 4:29).

Oh, how we need Bunyan! We are soft and thin-skinned. We are worldly; we fit far too well into our God-ignoring culture. We are fearful and anxious and easily discouraged. We have taken our eyes off the Celestial City and the deep pleasures of knowing God and denying ourselves the lesser things that titillate for a moment but then shrink our capacities for great joy. Bunyan’s Seasonable Counsel for us is: Take up your cross daily and follow Jesus. “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25).

In light of the sufferings of those Christians who have gone before, and in the light of the sufferings of Our Savior on our behalf, O that God would grant us mercy because we do not want to suffer on the behalf of a child.

Addenda: Also check out this post on Pyromaniacs


  1. So true. It’s difficult for me at times. I’m more timid than not in many ways.

    i have been bold at times, and I have been a coward.

    I suppose there’s really no answer to repenting of timidity. Though I do pray for the Lord to makeme bold for His glory, and I really have a sincere heart for this, it doesn’t happen as much as I would like.

    And when i do become confident, it seems the Lord allows Satan and his cohorts to come and bring strong and intense opposition in my life.
    Hopefully I have grown, but I’m not sure.

    Thanks for this excellent post. It couldn’t be any more spot on as they say.

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