“The cross, the cross! God can only be found in suffering and the cross!” - Martin Luther
Two things are clear today as we step into this new year. First, is that there is no lack of bad news. We have experienced tragedies in our homes and communities with the onslaught of COVID, as well as the severe and often hypocritical responses to it. Our physical and emotional health have been attacked through a broken natural world and human iniquity. We have also seen a breakdown in the fabric of our governmental institutions and an internal political war that has forced many Americans, even many Christians, into almost divergent moral universes. And, if we have been paying attention, we have seen the shocking fall of renowned public ministers and evangelists who we (wrongly) assumed were beyond the touch of sin and the devil. Add to these the everyday struggles of maintaining or losing marriages, taking financial hits, and struggling to understand our parents or mentor our children, and we have had plenty of bad news. At least, “bad news” if we look at it from a merely human perspective.
But, if we have “ears to hear,” perhaps this news would not be as bad as we think. Unfortunately, the second problem becoming clear today, is the increasing difficulty in our churches to see, and speak, of spiritual truths. Too many of us in the American Church want to conflate “earthly blessings” with “God’s will for us,” both as individuals and as a nation. However, no serious student of God’s Word can accept such an unbiblical thought! For God’s will for us is ultimately not about rewards on earth. God’s will for us is far greater than that! His will is not about giving us blessings, it is about making us blessed, so that we can attain incorruptible rewards in eternal and incorruptible places. The earthly goods that God gives are not the ends themselves, although we are perennially tempted to see them as such. Money, accolades, good food, nice houses, even family and good health are all finite and corruptible things. They will come, and they will go. They are here for us to use and appreciate, but not to dwell on or grasp too tightly.
When asked what the meaning of the Christian life was, the great reformer, Martin Luther, did not respond the way many might today. He did not say that the meaning of the Christian life was “to live a prosperous and easy life.” Instead he said this, “the cross, the cross, suffering and the cross!” Now, for Luther, the Cross certainly was the key to flourishing and prosperity, but what a way to flourish! It is a way the world cannot understand. To the world, it is foolishness.
I suggest, therefore, in this time of much “bad news” that we hear such news as Luther would have heard it, or as St Paul did when he said this, “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” For, “to gain Christ” will require that we look beyond the immediate tragedy of our times and see God in that tragedy. For where there is suffering, there is our God.
Anthony Costello has a BA from the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, IN and two Masters Degrees from Talbot School of Theology, Biola University in Christian Apologetics and Theology. Anthony's areas of focus are Apologetics and Systematic Theology. He has published in both academic journals and magazines and co-authored two chapters in Evidence that Demands a Verdict, edited by Josh and Sean McDowell. He is a US Army and Afghanistan Veteran.