“A Theology of Suffering for a Self-Obsessed Culture” by Paul Edwards

Contemporary culture is, in the words of the late author and social critic Christopher Lasch, a “culture of narcissism.” Tragically, the American church is not immune to this virus. For today the lifestyles and longings of many modern day followers of Christ often bear no appreciable difference from that of our non-Christian neighbors and co-workers.

At some point during the last quarter century it became all-too-common to stop proclaiming a gospel directed at people’s real spiritual needs and instead focus on the wants and desires of potential church goers. More than mirroring the first century church, this conduct reflects the way Starbucks markets overpriced coffee to potential consumers.

For example, conventional wisdom in evangelicalism today is that suffering is the exception, not the norm for the believer. Moreover, if a Christian does suffer it is quite possibly because of sin in his or her life. Many segments of the American church—immersed in a culture of happy, prosperous consumers—have failed their constituency by not faithfully proclaiming what the Bible says about the reality of suffering.

But suffering in the Christian life is the rule, not the exception. From the day Christ called us to follow Him he fully disclosed two prerequisites: denying ourselves and taking up our cross. When Saul of Tarsus was converted on the road to Damascus, he didn’t experience a Benny Hinn-esque healing. On the contrary, God blinded him, left him in that condition for days and sent a reluctant evangelist by the name of Ananias to inform him of how much he would suffer for the name of Christ (Acts 9:15-16).

And suffer he did. Consider what Paul endured: five times beaten with 39 stripes, three times beaten with rods, stoned, shipwrecked three times, a night and a day floating in the sea, danger of all kinds, weary and in pain, hungry and thirsty, naked and cold. And to add insult to injury God refused to answer his prayer for healing from whatever was ailing him—a thorn in his flesh. Paul was told to be content with grace in the midst of his sufferings (2 Cor. 11-12).

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