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FROM THE SERVANT GENERAL
 

FROM THE SERVANT GENERAL

OUR THEME FOR 2010
(Part 12)

THE BLESSING OF AFFLICTION


The title of this paper is quite challenging, isn’t it? But so is the book of Job. And as God brought us to the book of Job for our theme for this year, we must really try to see what God wants to teach us. What God wants us to learn could be an overturning of quite a bit of what we believe and how we perceive our faith to be.

Now let me at the outset state that affliction per se is not the blessing. The blessing is what affliction accomplishes for us as far as our relationship with God is concerned, and as far as His accomplishing His will for our lives. This leads to two truths. One, that we do not need to desire affliction, but when it comes, that we positively look to the blessing it will bring. Two, that we do not need to rejoice in affliction, but that, while still looking to the blessing, we can grieve.[1]

Look at the example of Jesus himself. At the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asked the Father if the cup could pass from him. He felt “sorrow and distress” (Mt 26:37b). But he immediately followed this request with an affirmation of obedience and submission to the Father’s will.

Have you ever wondered why authentic faith in the First World is disappearing, while faith in the Third World, especially in countries where Christians are persecuted, is flourishing? This is despite the reality that in the First World, the Christian faith is older, Church institutions more established, theology more developed, resources for building churches or doing mission more available.

One reason, if not the reason, is because Christians in the First World have become the majority and have become comfortable. They no longer need to fight and die for their faith. They travel to prayer meetings in their cars, worship in air-conditioned churches, and can hear the gospel preached on TV in the comfort of their homes.

This is why since the time of Job, Satan has refined his methods. He wanted Job to turn away from God by afflicting him. Today he gets people to turn away from authentic faith by making them comfortable and not afflicting them. They still look to God, they still go to church,[2] but they no longer live the authentic gospel.

Is it any wonder that many Christian leaders today had to develop their own theology to conform to and to affirm the lifestyle that Christians seemed to be looking for? It is called the gospel of prosperity. Accept Jesus and be blessed with success and prosperity. Now indeed Jesus came so that we might have a full or abundant life. Indeed we will experience the bountiful blessings bestowed by a loving Father on His children. But if only that, then that is not the authentic gospel! Jesus said that those who follow him will receive bountiful material blessings, but also persecutions (Mk 10:29-30).

Why does the gospel of prosperity lead us to a wrong relationship with God? It makes us look at God as just the source of good things. It makes us do and be good in order to be rewarded. God, of course, is indeed the source of all good things, but He is not just someone we call on in order to receive those goodies. Many Christians today pray intently only when they have some problem or difficulty and so have some request from God. When the difficulty passes, so does their prayer time! After 9/11, after Ondoy, after natural calamities, the churches were packed. Tragically, after so many months, church attendance again dwindled.

Affliction brings us back to reality. First, God is not there just as a dispenser of goodies. Second, pain and suffering are realities of life, even with a loving God,[3] and we just need to deal with it. Third, it is suffering that puts us in a right relationship with God -- with total dependence, with humble submission, with walking the very way of Christ.

In this we see how affliction is not negative but positive.

Can we now appreciate why God allowed Job to be afflicted? Job was already blameless and upright. What more did God want? Well, God allowed the test to make sure that Job was not good only because of His blessings, which was what Satan contended. But more so, God so loved Job, was so proud of him, that He wanted him to enter even more deeply into a relationship with Him, so Job could “see” Him even with the limitation of human sight and insight.

That required God to remove Job’s consolation and bring him to desolation, to the dark night of the soul. When Job lost everything,[4] that is when he had only God. When all his material and family blessings were removed, that is when Job could praise God not for His blessings, but simply for who He is, the Almighty.

Now despite His blessings, Job was a blameless and upright man. How about many Christians today? They are easily led astray by wealth, by power and position, by the adulation of others. They even begin to want more and more, not realizing they are having less and less of authentic faith. Comfort, power, wealth -- all are threats to one’s spiritual well-being. This is why Paul so very strongly warned against wanting to be rich and the love of money (1 Tim 6:7-10). But is this not the direction where many Christians today are going?

And so we are called today to be the Church of the Poor. It is not just a Church for the Poor, where the rich share their material blessings with their less fortunate brethren. It is not just a Church with the Poor, where all are in solidarity, where justice is the norm. But it is a Church of the Poor, where every member lives out evangelical poverty and rejects the allures of materialism, consumerism and secularism.[5] The Church of the Poor is the Church suffering with Christ, embracing the cross, and journeying with the Savior all the way to heaven.

But what is the lot of the poor? They are oppressed, marginalized, deprived and afflicted. Why does God allow this? Is God unjust? Some even ask: where is God? Job complained: “From out of the city the dying groan, and the soul of the wounded cries for help; yet God pays no attention to their prayer.” (Job 24:12,RSV).

But God has revealed Himself in the Bible as a defender of the poor. The very Son of God was born poor, in a squalid and smelly stable. Jesus himself came to bring glad tidings to the poor. His body on earth, the Church, has looked to a preferential option for the poor. God loves the poor!

Why then are there so many poor people in the world, with seemingly no hope for a better life? Just as God used affliction to bring Job to a deeper relationship with Him, God allows poverty to show us, both rich and poor alike, the way to authentic faith. And just as affliction is not the blessing, so too poverty itself is not the blessing.[6] But just as affliction brought Job to a deeper relationship with God, so too does poverty[7] bring us all to a deeper faith in Him.

Is it good to be poor then? Should the rich strive to become poor? Material poverty, not necessarily. Evangelical poverty, yes. How? This is the place of affliction. To be poor is to be deprived, to become powerless, to be oppressed. To be poor is to do without or to be stripped of what the world desires. When affliction lays us low and humbles us, when it makes us become no longer dependent on ourselves or on our human strength and resources, when it removes us from the comfort zones from where our faith begins to weaken, when we can no longer find our joy in material things, that is the start of a renewed and proper relationship with God.

Then we discover the true blessings and bountiful life that God intends. First there is God Himself as the center of our lives. Then we have the blessings of life itself, health, family, children, selfless service to others, the beauty of God’s creation, our Christian community. Such is true wealth.

In our life and mission as CFC-FFL, we do experience affliction. Those who do are among those truly blessed.

  • The victims of Ondoy who were forcibly detached from earthly possessions.
  • The poor in our Restoration Villages who struggle with their day-to-day material needs.
  • The missionaries who leave the comforts of home and family to serve in a foreign land
  • The missionaries who suffered a serious accident in Ghana that resulted in severe bodily injuries.[8]
  • Those who were betrayed, maligned and rejected by their very own brethren.
  • Those who experience the tragic death of a loved one.
  • The widow who has to fend for herself.
  • The young children who are “orphaned” due to their parents having to go abroad to work.

When we suffer in this way in Christ, we enter into the mystery of the cross. This is the central aspect of our faith. Thus we do not go around in the circles of peripherals, but plunge right in to our faith’s core. When we suffer in this way, we are emptied and so God’s grace can flow in and fill us. We are able to let go of self-importance and self-sufficiency. When we suffer this way, we reap its good fruit, that of compassion and empathy for the poor, hope in the Lord, trust in Jesus, and joy in Christ. When we suffer in this way, we are on our way to following in the very footsteps of our Lord and Savior.

By the grace and mercy of God, perhaps we in CFC-FFL are well underway to becoming the Church of the Poor.[9] In our evangelization, we will be privileged to spread the good news of Jesus Christ, a gospel of the cross, a gospel to the poor.

This is why God has brought us to the story of Job. It is to be our own story.

(January 3, 2010)


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[1] We do not need to desire or rejoice in affliction, but we can, since we look to the blessing it brings. There are great saints, like St Francis of Assisi, who actually looked for, embraced and rejoiced in affliction for the sake of Christ. St Paul often affirmed his joy at suffering affliction for Christ.
[2] The next step of course is being swallowed by a secular and materialist world. Then one would no longer even go to church.
[3] For those who understand, there are pain and suffering precisely because God is loving.
[4] Except his life, which was no life at all at that moment.
[5] Can you see the irony of wanting the poor to become rich and for a poor nation to become First World?
[6] In fact poverty is in contradiction to the abundance of the world God created and the fullness of life Jesus came to bring.
[7] Material or evangelical.
[8] The driver was actually killed.
[9] That is what God intends. Whether it happens is entirely up to our response.

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