The longer I remain a Christian, the more I realise that what I believe about God is just as important as believing in God. Nowadays, I find myself having to unlearn certain beliefs that were tenets of my faith, having discovered that they don’t align with Scripture. As a preacher once said: “God’s commitment to you is based on what He said, not what you would like Him to say or what you think He said”. So, we have a responsibility to find out what He actually said. If, like me, you grew up in church but never really studied the Scriptures for yourself to know what it says, you may find it quite challenging if you decide to study the Bible as an adult. I’m not seeking to discourage anyone. I firmly believe it’s better to search and know the truth than remain in ignorance. Truth sets us free, while ignorance keeps us in bondage. Therefore, we should never be content with ignorance.
Take the subject of suffering; it’s a fact that each of us will suffer at some point in life. Yet, like many, I’ve found myself asking the why question about suffering. “Why would God allow such and such to happen to me?” “Why does a good and all-powerful God permit suffering in the world?” and so on. The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis has helped me wrestle with these why questions. Many of us have asked or are asking these questions, or we know people currently asking them because of painful circumstances. Sadly, we may also know people who have lost their faith in God because of their experiences with pain and suffering. So, these questions aren’t trivial. Yet, I often find that many people either avoid contemplating such questions or settle for answers which sound nice but are at odds with reality. Such an approach may suffice for other areas of life, but not pain and suffering.
I was one of those who settled for nice-sounding answers on suffering until my Bible study group started a study on the subject (I highly recommend our study guide. It’s available in different regions and languages). In the first week, I was challenged by Paul’s words to the Philippians. He told them that it had been granted to them (and us by extension) for Jesus’s sake, not just to believe in Jesus, but also to suffer for His sake [Philippians 1:29-30]. Paul implied that this was a privilege God granted to believers. It was hard for me to accept this because I used to believe that since Jesus suffered, I didn’t have to. Therefore, if I experienced suffering, it wasn’t God’s will. This misconception dictated my attitude whenever I experienced unfavourable circumstances.
Elsewhere, Peter tells us that because Jesus suffered, we must arm ourselves with the same purpose, that is, being willing to suffer for what is right and pleasing to God. Those who do this are no longer incited or seduced by sin, and they no longer live driven by the lusts of men. Instead, they live to do God’s will [1 Peter 4:1-2]. Knowing this gives a redemptive purpose to pain and suffering that I never considered because my disposition was always to reject it. It’s also worth noting that there are various ways we can suffer: for wrongdoing [1 Peter 4:15], for living Christlike lives [2 Timothy 3:12] or because it’s God’s will [1 Peter 4:19].
Suffering when you’ve done something wrong doesn’t incur God’s favour [1 Peter 2:20]. For instance, if I commit a crime, and I’m punished, my punishment is deserved, and there’s no credit in that. But if I suffer patiently for obeying God’s word, or because it’s God’s will, I’ll find favour with God. Interestingly, Peter wrote this to a beleaguered minority group already experiencing persecution. I suspect it must have been hard for some of them to accept his instructions, especially when he told them to submit to their masters with all respect, even if these masters were wicked. They were to do this as part of their calling to follow Jesus’s example. They were also to do it because it was God’s will [1 Peter 2:13-24]. Imagine reading Peter’s letter after an oppressive boss or government official has treated you unfairly. What would you have made of Peter’s letter?
These passages have been paradigm-shifting for me. They’ve been examples of how Scripture can convict, correct and train us in righteousness [2 Timothy 3:16-17]. Honestly, my flesh rejects the idea of suffering for any reason. So, these passages make me uncomfortable. My flesh would prefer a Christianity that doesn’t demand too much of me nor require me to change my paradigms. However, that Christianity doesn’t exist. The Bible says much more about suffering than I’ve written here, especially about God’s grace and love amid challenging situations and the rewards of suffering for the sake of God’s name. But this blog isn’t about suffering. It’s about encountering a scenario where God’s word collides with our erroneous paradigms. Such encounters leave us with a decision to either reject and unlearn our beliefs, or reject God’s word. Here’s a truth I’ve come to accept: Truly desiring to follow God must involve a readiness to unlearn beliefs that don’t conform to His word, irrespective of how challenging it is. However, this is impossible unless we’re unequivocally convinced that only Jesus has the message of eternal life [John 6:68, John 17:17].
Have you assessed your relationship with the Scriptures recently? Do you ignore or reject its truths, or do you allow them to challenge and change your paradigms? We’ll never be able to understand and act on God’s will if we don’t align our thought patterns and beliefs to His word [Romans 12:2]. So, are you prepared to submit to God’s word, especially when it contradicts your beliefs [Romans 3:4]?