Tried and True

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The problem of suffering is a universal dilemma.  Many do not resolve the problem in an acceptable way.  When faced with extreme suffering, our faith in God is tested.  The classic example of patience in the face of suffering is provided by Job (James 5:11).
Three Ways of Solving the Problem of Suffering That Fail
Consider Hinduism.  In Hinduism, suffering is the result of sins committed in a previous life (Hinduism affirms reincarnation). Karma–where the good and bad deeds performed by human beings in the present determine the quality of their lives both now and in future births–such that the suffering we experience now is seen as the punishment for bad things done in previous lives.  Karma is an impersonal, cosmic principle at work in the universe.  In Hinduism, suffering is the result of bad karma.  Hinduism fails to resolve the problem of suffering because reincarnation is a false concept (Heb. 9:27).  Karma does not exist.
Consider Buddhism.  Buddhism’s central teaching is based on the problem of suffering.  The Four Noble Truths are:  (1) The truth of suffering (Dukkha); (2) The truth of the origin of suffering (Samudaya); (3) The truth of the cessation of suffering (Nirodha); and (4) the truth of the path to the cessation of suffering (Magga). For Buddhist, suffering comes about because of the mismatch between what we desire and what we receive. The solution–we must get rid of desire.  If we can desensitize ourselves sufficiently, then,  nothing can hurt us.  The problem with this view is that it is not possible nor practical to turn off all desire.  Some desire is good and profitable (Matt. 5:6).  Buddhist believe that suffering is the result of bad desire.
Consider Atheism.  To the Atheist, the material universe is neither good or bad.  In a blind physical universe, some people are going to get hurt, others are going to get lucky.  We have only blind, pitiless, indifference.  Suffering is the result of bad luck.  However, luck itself does not exist except as a false god created by people to describe the unexplained (I John 5:21).
All three views described above are bad news for sufferers.
The Christian Viewpoint.  When we ask, “why?” the question reveals that we believe in God and not blind chance.  Let us turn to the book of Job for an answer that will address the problem of suffering.  The central question in the book of Job is: “Will Job still honor God when all his prosperity is taken away from him?”  Does Job truly worship God or does he worship what God has provided?
Job’s Suffering.  After Job suffers the loss of his ten children, and his source of wealth, he declares: “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: The LORD gave, and the LORD taketh away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job. 1:21).  In spite of all that Job suffers, including the loss of his health (ch. 2) he still trusts in God.  Job’s wife tells him to curse God and die.  Job rebukes her with these words, “What, shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10). In all of this, Job did not sin with his lips.
Job’s Friends’ Bad Theology.  The majority of the book of Job is given to the bad theology of his friends.  Bad theology does not solve the problem of suffering.  Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, and Elihu fail Job.  They believed that he suffered because of his sins.  In Job’s case, this was not true.  It is true that some suffering that human beings experience is the result of sin.  However, in Job’s case, suffering was the result of testing (Job 1).  Job’s faith is tried in the fire (I Pet. 1:6-7).
The Answer to the Problem of Suffering.  The only answer to the problem of suffering in the book of Job is to reflect on the universe and observe the power, skill, and wisdom of God demonstrated therein.  God asks Job many questions that Job could not answer.  God never directly deals with Job’s suffering.  He asks Job to consider His glory as demonstrated in the created acts.  If God is able to create and order the universe, then, God is more than capable of overseeing the details of our lives.  When God asks Job to reflect on His being and nature, He is asking Job to develop confidence (trust, faith) in His credibility and qualifications to rightly guide Job’s life.  Job must resolve the problem of suffering in love, trust, and devotion to God.  He must see the connection between suffering and worship.
The End of the Story.  At last, Job is vindicated by God (Job 42:8-9).  Job’s friends were condemned by God.  God was gracious to Job and doubled Job’s possessions and blessed him with seven sons and three daughters.  God glory and God’s grace provide the answer to suffering.  Job lived 140 years after this period of testing and died being old and full of days (prosperous).  God is great and God is good.  Blessed be the name of the LORD!
The Application.  God desires genuine human relationships based upon love and trust.  Job was an innocent sufferer and his experience points to another time when an innocent would suffer on a cross for the greater good of humankind and bear tremendous suffering out of love for God and us.  God has not been passive about evil in the world.  He has provided redemption through His Son, Jesus Christ.  God deals with suffering by sending His own Son to suffer for us that we could one day be liberated from all suffering and taken to a heavenly place where there will be no more suffering. (reference: Paradoxology by Krish Kandiah, pp. 85-111).

Patience–A Virtue

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Temperance and patience form an important team of virtues.  In II Peter 1:5-8, Peter instructs us to add patience to temperance.  Without temperance, we could not be patient.  The word “add” indicates that we must grow spiritually in the development of godly character.  The pursuit of godly character is one aspect of being a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Patience–Passive Sense.
The word patience literally involves “an abiding under.” (Vine, III, pp. 167-168).  In the passive sense, patience is endurance.  In the face of hatred, Christians must endure.  Luke 21:19, “In your patience possess ye your souls.”  Jesus warned that His disciples would be hated of all men for His name’s sake.  Some trials are incident to service to Jesus Christ or the Gospel.  II Cor. 6:4-5, “But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, In stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings… (See also, II Cor. 12:12; II Tim. 3:10).  We must be patient when under chastisement (Heb. 12:7).  And, we must be patient in the face of undeserved affliction (I Peter 2:20).
Patience-Active Sense
Patience, in the active sense, means perseverance or persistence. Paul teaches us to continue in well-doing.  Rom. 2:7, “To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life.”  It takes patience to bear fruit.  Luke 8:15, “But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.”  Patience is also needed to run the Christian race.  Heb. 12:1, “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.”
Patience–Some Opposites
Consider this list of opposites to patience:  idleness, contrariness, inattention, defiance, neglect, irritation, exasperation, rage, fretfulness, fickleness, ire, temper, petulance, displeasure, negligence, disobedience, resistance, wrath, remissness, indignation, indolence, recalcitrance, fury, pettishness, offense, sloth, insubordination, peevishness, impatience, willfulness, inconstancy, resentment, intractability, vexation, animosity, changeableness, and passion.  A lack of patience produces a whole host of undesirable attitudes and behaviors.
Patience and Temperance
Temperance is self-control or will-power exercised to restrain the passions and develop the spiritual habits of mind and heart that will keep us from sin and promote righteousness.  Patience is the use of will-power to either endure hardships and trials or persevere in well-doing (righteousness).  Temperance and patience are a team that work together to help us live a life that is pleasing to God.  They are intricately involved in the mastery of self.  These may be two virtues that are lacking the most in the character of God’s people.

The Cure For Impatience

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We have mastered impatience!  Have you ever been behind a car at a stoplight when it turns green and the car in front of you fails to go forward and just sets still? Have you ever been in a check-out line when the cashier makes a mistake and it takes ten minutes to correct it?  Have you ever attempted to order food at a fast-food restaurant and the person waiting on you is new and doesn’t know what to do first?  In each of these scenarios, do you wait patiently?  Most of us have been in these situations and were upset because we had to wait.  We know the feelings of irritation, frustration, and anger when someone else fails to do his/her job and we pay the price in lost time and incovenience.  Yes, we have mastered impatience.
There are three reasons that impatience comes to characterize our hearts.  First, we are overscheduled.  We are like a glass of water that is full to the brim.  Anytime we are jostled, we spill over.  We are so overscheduled in life that we have no flexibility.  Second, we hold to unrealistic expectations of others.  We actually have developed a double-standard.  We expect other people to always get it right and not make mistakes that will cost us personally.  However, when we mess up, we have many excuses as to why we failed and we want others to cut us some slack.  Third, we have an oversized ego and are arrogant.  We have feelings of superiority to others whom we think are inferior to us.  We are impatient with others when we feel that we are better than they are and we can work faster, think smarter, and accomplish more than them.
If we are impatient with people, we are probably impatient with God too!  Remember Abram and Sarah?  In Gen. 16, they ran ahead of God in the matter of having an heir and Sarah permitted Abram to be with Hagar and together they produced a son, Ishmael.  Ishmael was not the promised son.  Abram and Sarah grew impatient.  Twenty-five years passed from the time God promised Abram a son until Isaac was born.  Twenty-five years is a long time to wait for a promise to be fulfilled.  We must learn to “wait upon the Lord.” Faith in God produces patience with God.  God works all things out according to His own timetable. Trust Him!
God is longsuffering toward us (II Pet. 3:9).  The word longsuffering means “long-tempered.”  It is the opposite of being “short-tempered.”  Why is God patient with us?  The answer is given in this verse, He is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”  God is merciful.  His mercy produces longsuffering.  Mercy is the antidote to impatience.
If you want to become more patient, you must become more merciful!  If you want to be more patient with God, you must trust Him implicitly.

Keep A Grip On Your Soul!

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In Luke 21:19, Jesus states, “In your patience, possess ye your souls.”  Jesus makes this statement within the context of His prophecy concerning the destruction of Jerusalem.  Jesus is traveling toward Jerusalem.  His death is near.  As He approaches the temple complex, He hears remarks of those nearby who are impressed with the construction of the temple.  Jesus takes this opportunity to reveal that the temple would be destroyed.  We know that this prophecy was fulfilled in 70 A.D.  Jesus warns His disciples that they would face persecution during this time.  Persecution would challenge their patience and test their grip on their own souls.
The Nature of Persecution
In Luke 21:12-19, Jesus focuses on different sources of persecution that the disciples would face.  In vv. 12-15, the persecution would come from religious and political sources.  In vv. 16-19, the persecution would come from their own family members who would betray them and general hatred of all men.  This betrayal by family members would stun and shock them.  It would leave them disillusioned and may even lead to their death.   Imagine the emotional and psychological impact this would have on them.  Persecution is designed by Satan to separate believers from Christ.  It acts as a wedge producing tension, stress and suffering in order to separate Christians from God.  The stress and suffering could be relieved by recanting one’s faith.  To hold on to one’s faith under such extreme circumstances involves mainting a firm grip on one’s soul.  Jesus asked, “What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:26).  Would you give up your soul to save your life?  Would you give up your soul to maintain family relationships?  Would you give up your soul to have the acceptance from enemies?  Persecution challenges faith and tests its strength.  It challenges our ability to endure.
The Need for Patience
The need for patience is affirmed by the Lord.  Patience is steadfast endurance.  We need steadfast endurance that secures the soul in times of suffering and persecution.  Persecution is painful.  Most of us want to get out of pain as quickly as possible.  In some situations, we may have to endure painful situations over long periods of time in order to secure our soul in relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.  Endurance comes from faith (I John 5:4), love (I Cor. 13:4-8) and hope (Heb. 6:19).  Faith, love and hope form a three-fold chord that is not easily broken.  Also, the Holy Spirit strengthens us (Eph. 3:16), Christ strengthens us (Phil. 4:13 and Eph. 6:10).  When warring against Satan, we will need Christian graces and God’s help in order to be victorious.  In the strength of the Lord, we can secure our souls.
The Ultimate Prize
The ultimate prize is eternal life.  Our physical life might be lost in persecution, but through steadfast endurance we can reach the goal of everlasting life.  “In your patience possess ye your souls.”  Paul kept the prize before him at all times ( Phil. 3:13-14).  “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”  Keep a tight grip on your soul!  Keep a tight grip on God.  Keep a tight grip on heaven.  Don’t permit anything to come between you and your God.
Remember Jesus
The Lord does not ask His disciples to do anything He has not already done Himself.  Jesus suffered persecution.  Remember, the trials Jesus endured?  Remember the false witnesses that testified against Him?  Remember when they spat upon Him and mocked Him?  Remember the Roman beating? Remember the crown of thorns? Remember the blood shed?  Remember His death on the cross?  Jesus gave everything for us.  We must be willing to present our bodies as a living sacrifice to Him (Rom. 12:1-2).  “In your patience, possess ye your souls.”