Out of Context?

Out of Context?

John 3:16 — “For God so loved the world that he gave his only
begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but
have everlasting life.”

Over the years of my life (I’m close to 37 now, which I HATE to
realize) I have had quite a few friends and relatives die, some after
much pain and suffering. In times of suffering and death, especially
when seemingly good, innocent people are involved, some of us may
wonder (I know I often have) how God’s love can be seen in the
situation. “If God is love, why did he allow my child to die?” “If
God loves me, why must I suffer this constant pain?” Some also wonder
about God’s love when they think of the starving multitudes in Third
World nations. Why does he allow such suffering? How can he claim to
love someone and then sit by and watch them in excruciating life-long
pain, especially when he has the ability to stop that pain?

To be honest, I am myself puzzled concerning the reasons behind
much of the apparent evil and suffering that I see or hear of in this
world. And some of the proposed solutions to the puzzle that I have
heard sound pretty shallow, and I imagine especially so to the one
faced with an actual situation of suffering.

But I think that sometimes what aggravates the problem, making it
seem even worse than it already is, might be called an attempt to
“read” God’s love out of context. Living in a culture that’s
completely wrapped up in the concerns of this life, legitimate as
those concerns are, we can easily lose the “eternal perspective.” We
tend to see things only within the context of this life, forgetting
that God’s love in Christ is an eternal love, something that will find
its greatest fulfillment on the other side of this life, in the “life
to come.”

The Apostle Paul is aware of the eternal perspective when, in I
Corinthians 15, he speaks of the importance of faith in Christ’s
resurrection. In verse 18 he says that if there is no resurrection,
then those who are dead in Christ have perished, which is the tragic
view of death and suffering from the perspective of this life alone.
He continues, “If it’s only in this life that we have hope in Christ,
then we are the most miserable of all men.” If this life is our only
evidence of God’s love, then we ARE in pretty bad shape. “But now
Christ has risen from the dead, and he’s only the first, for … in
Christ all shall be made alive” (vv. 20,22). Thus, we are helped to
refrain from drawing hasty conclusions out of context, for when all of
this world’s words have been spoken, we know that God has yet another
word. On that word we wait, trusting that it will put everything into
context. The atoning death of Christ on the cross (“For God so loved
the world that…”) has given us this larger context.

Surely, the eternal perspective should not be used as a cop-out
from our responsibility to be concerned with removing or reducing
suffering whenever and wherever we can, and of making the world a
better place for all to live in. But it can help us to understand,
when this life is unavoidably difficult, that suffering is never the
last word for those who live in the context of God’s love.

Charles Shelton

Computers for Christ – Chicago