An undated sermon note:
We can’t be Christlike until we, like Christ, learn what it means to suffer unjustly, not just suffer. That’s what allows us to have compassion. Heb. 4:8
Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, I can actually pinpoint the date and context of this note.
I suspected this was connected to Harambee Church’s tour through Hebrews, and a Google search took me to the long-since-archived Harambee website from 2005-2009. There I found Mike Gunn’s PDF sermon notes and MP3s from the entire Harambee series on Hebrews… and in particular, Mike’s sermon on Hebrews 4:1-10 from November 20, 2005. The subject of the sermon: “The Preeminence of His Rest.”
Significantly, though Mike’s extensive sermon notes mention suffering exactly zero times, I made no notes about “rest” and instead chose to make a note about suffering.
“For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day.” That’s Hebrews 4:8. Now, how did I draw a lesson about suffering and injustice out of that?
Well, by November of 2005, we were over two and a half years into Jenn’s gastrointestinal failure. We were on the verge of a third Thanksgiving during which Jenn would not at all be thankful for family gatherings focused on food; by Christmas that year, Jenn would be septic for the first of several consecutive times over the holidays, and we would exchange the traditional holiday “rest” for an extended stay at the hospital. Jenn had a semi-permanent PICC line in her arm, and was headed soon for J-tubes and G-tubes as well. 2006 would see us raft the Grand Canyon with tube feeding and TPN, and revel in the “accomplishment,” but we already well into a season of great stress while adjusting to the idea that Jenn’s condition was not temporary. It was permanent, and there was no “rest” on the horizon.
And the seeming injustice of it all was just killing me.
But here’s the thing. My sermon note was based on my own experience, not good theology.
Yes, Jenn and I were learning some things about having compassion on other people. Like, for instance, not jumping to conclusions about people based just on appearances. It’s easy to assume the worst about a thin but otherwise normal-looking woman, and assume (rather unkindly) that she’s anorexic. That’s certainly what doctors did to Jenn for two years.
But you don’t have to suffer, much less suffer unjustly, to learn compassion. You just have to get outside yourself… and in our case, God had to teach us certain lessons that, apparently, we couldn’t learn any other way than we did. (Please don’t follow our example.)
But Jesus, I’m pretty sure, was not very occupied with the injustice of His suffering: because He knew quite well why it was happening, and He signed up for it in advance. And there, perhaps, is one real worthwhile lesson on being Christlike: if you choose to follow Him, you are in all likelihood going to suffer. Growth is never easy. Sacrifice is never painless. There are bigger things at stake than your feelings that things are not as they should be. In fact, in looking back, we will find that things were always exactly as they should have been.
Count the cost. And get over yer bad self. Rest assured that there is no injustice in following God.
It’s funny, I think we all use an experiential hermeneutic in one way or another. Yours is understandable and I think continually connects us to His eternal word
Yes, I think you are right. If we are honest, experience can’t help but color our hermeneutic. It’s good for me, though, to go back through my old notes and see how my perspective on things has changed — particularly over the last ten years.