Guests: Dave Thomas and James Ash
This study guide is meant to accompany the Seventh-day Adventist Sabbath School lesson for the 3rd Quarter of 2022. The format of this guide follows a similar pattern for each week’s lesson: an introduction to the topic, a short discussion on several verses or a bullet list of concepts for a passage, followed by questions in bold type. Please read through the Biblical passages, and then prayerfully consider the bolded questions. Perhaps you’ll find better questions that should be asked, and answered!
This quarter’s lesson is dedicated to the task of exploring Christian suffering, trials, and difficulty. The introduction to the lesson claims that the topic of Theodicy—the theological study of God’s justice and goodness in the face of human pain and evil (indeed of all life?)—will not be explored directly. Yet we cannot in good conscience discuss suffering and pain, especially that of God’s people who are under His protection and care, without some reference to the question of “why, oh why would God allow this if He’s good, loving, kind, and gracious?”
Certainly, all humans born on this planet can agree with a central tenet of Buddhism, that “life is suffering,” that to exist means to experience pain at some level, whether physical, mental/emotional, social or spiritual. But the Bible suggests more: it isn’t just humans who suffer, but God Himself feels pain with His creation. When His children weep, He weeps with them, if we dare anthropomorphize God in this way! When those who trust in Him are made an object of Satan’s attacks, He feels their rejection, sense of abandonment, and pain with them.
Yet God’s empathy isn’t just “sympathetic” in the sense that He can witness our struggles and imagine what it must be like. In the person of Jesus Christ, God enters into our world of pain and sin, and suffers in the most ultimate of ways. He is intimately acquainted with the worst kinds of pain: societal rejection by friends and countrymen; spiritual suffering during temptation to give in to desires of the eyes, flesh, and world and to leave the path of the cross; physical pain in his fasting and final hours of life; and the worst suffering, the one that brought death—his separation from the very source of life. He has experienced the worst of sin’s effects, and yet has triumphed. Unlike Buddhism, then, which seeks the enlightened path by bringing an end to suffering, Christians are encouraged to see the crucible of suffering as a refining process for our good, for our benefit.
So this quarter we must ask some important questions along the way:
- Why does God allow it? If “God is Love” and love does not wish pain, how can He allow it?
- Can or does pain and toil bring about something good?
- Must our coronation with a crown of life be preceded by the crown of suffering as it did for Jesus?
- What lessons does this difficult path teach?
- Will all true discipleship journeys require hardship?
- When does it end, or does it? Will suffering be part of the recreated world after Christ returns?
Hopefully our study this quarter helps us better understand the most difficult times we go through with heavenly perspective. I pray that those times of challenge and difficulty that you experience will contribute to your growth into the image and character of Christ!
June 9, 2022