06 January 2006

Christians and Suffering

Take up your cross

Four times in the New Testament (twice in Matthew and twice in Luke), Jesus is quoted as saying that his disciples must take up their cross in order to follow him.

This shouldn't be news to any Christian who has attempted to live by any Kingdom value that is unpopular in the secular world.
* Whether it be the Christian teenager who witnesses that binge-drinking isn't cool (or whatever the current term is!)
* Be it the Christian Londoner who stands against racism in the wake of the 7 July bombings
* Be it the Christian Texan who stands up for good stewardship of the environment.

But there is a way that this saying often gets mis-used by Christians and someone was advocating it again on a Christian discussion group the other day. It is a mis-use of this saying to suggest that every time a Christian has to make a choice that he or she ought always to make the choice that is difficult or self-sacrifical regardless of any other consideration.

There should be other more important considerations: the Kingdom values of truth, justice, honesty, and respect for human life.

To use an extreme but straight-forward example, God does not require Christians to 'sacrifice' themselves to domestic abuse. To use a mundane example, God does not require us to always avoid pleasure or to seek out pain.

So what is the point of 'take up your cross' if God does not require this sort of self-sacrifice?

The point is to stand up for the Kingdom values of truth, justice honesty and respect for human life even in the face of suffering. Faced with a choice to take up the cross for Kingdom values, I believe God calls us to choose the cross. Faced with the choice to take up the cross to resist evil, I believe that God calls us to choose the cross.

What God does not call us to do is to suffer pointlessly. And God certainly does not call us to suffer in order to appease another's unreasonable demands made in a state of what Paul would call captivity to the flesh (i.e. sin).

If we truly seek to live by Kingdom values, then it is inevitable that we will have to take up our cross at many points in our discipleship. This is simply a fact.

God also wants us to enjoy his creation: the natural world and the people around us. We are not required to seek out ways to make ourselves miserable at every turn. We will not have the strength to stand up for Truth if we have not allowed God to bless us and to refresh us.

May God bless you and refresh you and empower you to stand for Kingdom values.

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