Hope in the face of suffering - Midweek Message 24th February 2021
‘Perhaps the hardest part of the Christian life is dealing with the unholy and unwanted trio of visitors: fear, suffering and death.
Death, the Bible tells us, is the last enemy and we must all face it. Suffering usually comes before death and is a visitor we all dread. After all, who wants to suffer? Fear is normally the first of the trio to make our acquaintance, affecting our minds rather than our bodies.
Normally, of course, we don't like to think about these things. Suddenly, though, in the time of coronavirus these unwelcome visitors cannot be avoided.
The French mathematician and writer Blaise Pascal was reported to have said, ‘Being unable to cure death, wretchedness and ignorance, men have decided, in order to be happy not to think about such things.’
But suddenly such things are inescapable.
I have known this for longer than most. I have lived with cancer for seven years. Five years ago, I was told the cancer was incurable and that my death was imminent…’
So writes Jeremy Marshall in the introduction to his book ‘Hope in the face of suffering: 20 daily devotions for tough times’ which we are sending out to every home on our congregational mailing list in the run-up to Easter. You may remember the ‘Radiant Dawn’ Advent devotional we sent out before Christmas. Unable as were we at that time to meet in large numbers, we wanted to be able to share together in the joyful good news of Jesus’ birth as we read & reflected on the opening 2 chapters of Luke. This time it is Easter that is approaching. Easter, for which Christmas was preparation. Easter, which takes us to the heart of the Christian faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Easter, which for the Christian has always been synonymous with hope, the foundation of all Christian hope. Jeremy Marshall seeks to share that hope as he takes us in these 20 devotions through different passages of the Bible and reflects on them.
His own recent and life-threatening encounter with cancer ensures that we are not reading someone theorising about these difficult subjects of fear, suffering and death and yet he is keen to point out in the introduction: ‘I am not an expert on fear, suffering and death. I am not even …a clergyman. I am just a Christian, married with 3 adult children in the southeast of England, where I attend my local church. I make this point, he continues, only to say that these devotions are not about me but about three things that I have found we can use to defeat fear, suffering and death.’
The three things he mentions are:
1) the Bible - which he describes as ‘God’s medicine cabinet where we can find treatment for our diseases’ That’s why each of the daily devotions are based on a biblical passage which has proved helpful to him over these last 7 years. (For anyone not familiar with the Bible there is a very helpful appendix at the end of the book which places each of the different passages selected in the bigger Bible story)
2) the one to whom the Bible points, namely, Jesus himself. He says at one point: ’We may find partial theological answers to fear suffering and death - and there is a place for that - but God’s ultimate answer is Himself.’ He means in the person of Jesus, who as our Truthtrackers children have been reminding us these last two Sundays is ‘Totally God, Totally man’. As such, ‘He can save us from fear suffering and death’ says Marshall and continues, ‘I am living testimony that his presence can be experienced through his Word and my prayer is that you, too, will know his closeness as you look at His Word.’
3) Hope. I have found that fear, suffering and death can be redemptive because in Christ we have hope. I have found that people are intrigued by the hope I have. It is nothing particular to me; every Christian has the same hope. Jesus stands in front of us in our fear suffering and grief and says ‘I am the resurrection of the life’ (john 11.25)
Our prayer and desire is that reading and reflecting on these passages, plus Jeremy Marshall’s insight and encouragement, may be the means of generating and renewing hope in Christ in each of our lives. We have ordered extra copies and you are welcome to share these with anyone you think might benefit from it. (Just get in touch with Doris in the office if you would like extra)
The books will be sent out from the beginning of next week (as the current Church of Scotland guidance does not encourage us to deliver them in person) and the intention is to commence the first devotion on Monday 8th March and to read one a day, Monday to Friday, in the 4 weeks leading up to Good Friday on April 2nd
Looking forward to sharing in this with you,
Yours in hope and expectation,