Maol Iosa – Diary
For an explanation of the title and why we are publishing this diary, please see the first entry (27/3/13). Maol Iosa = servant or follower of Jesus. I should make clear that the 2012 entries were written last year on the day of the events described or on the day after. Today’s entry is a continuation of my thoughts about suffering. Summary: An old friend visits – suffering as “pure joy” – an existential question – suffering and other religions – God identifies with man – Christianity a religion of “power”.

Servant of Jesus
Tuesday 10th July 2012

This has been a quiet day; writing the diary all morning. An old friend visited in the afternoon. I gave her a copy of the book Margaret and I wrote. I don’t know what she’ll make of it. I don’t know if she’ll believe all that happened to us, especially the supernatural bits, stick falling and so on. When things like that happen should we keep silent about them or tell others. I have to keep on reminding myself why we wrote the book in the first place. It was that the fall of the stick appeared to be telling us to write down our experiences. And I thought it worth writing because for years I had been caught up in the world-view of naturalism. Then I met Margaret and all these weird and wonderful things happened to us; and, most importantly, in the context of a belief in God and the Christian religion.

All that happened to us confirmed, even for me proved, that the world has a supernatural component. This is despite the theory of evolution and all the other naturalistic scientific theories that claim that everything can be explained without recourse to the supernatural. After all the things that have happened to us, to have any intellectual integrity, I have to reject the religion of scientific naturalism, or scientism. I find Christianity convincing, and one of the reasons is how it deals with suffering.

Suffering is at the heart of the Christian faith. In the general letter of James we find these words: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1: 2-4

Suffering as pure joy! Well, it’s not easy to be joyful when you’re suffering, but I think I get what he means. Even outside the field of religion one very often has to suffer if one is going to learn. There are, of course degrees of suffering. Having to work day by day is suffering for some! but it isn’t the same as being ill with a terminal illness. But what James appears to be saying is that even in the worst kind of suffering we should still have faith that all will be well in the end. He is talking about the very essence of the Christian faith. We suffer in this life, but it is not the end, and the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ has proved that for James. In other words – utterly surprising as it is – the Christ-event is the key to understanding suffering, history and life itself. God himself, the creator of suffering, in Christ, suffers with us in our suffering, and overcomes suffering.

Some scholars think that the author of the epistle was not the apostle James but James the brother of Jesus, who was probably his eldest brother. The NIV Study Bible says: “At first he did not believe in Jesus and even challenged him and misunderstood his mission.” Later he became an important leader in the church in Jerusalem.

For me suffering is an existential question. It is for me by far the most important existential question. No amount of intellectualizing can explain it away. Human suffering is for me radically different to animal suffering. What makes it different is that we can foresee what could happen to us. We can imagine it and the imagining engenders fear. We know one day we will have to die. We can imagine it, and how we may die, and the imagining engenders fear. If we are naturalists we might say, “O well, that will be it, no more pain, six foot under; blessed oblivion.” But then the naturalist might say, “But wait, what if there’s some truth in the age-old belief of survival after death? All these near-death experiences they’re talking about. What if …?” And that very uncertainty is the essence of suffering. If there was absolute certainty that there was just pure oblivion … But no, there is always that tiny bit of uncertainty in the natural thinker’s mind. That is the hell of the human situation.

And it is all tied to the moral question. If there is a life of some sort after death, if the body is merely a conduit of a wider consciousness, will I suffer for how I have lived this life? Of course, the Hindu believer would say yes. Your karma will follow you when you are reborn; likewise the Buddhist. There will be an endless cycle of life till you achieve liberation or mokṣa from the round of existence or saṃsāra. Although Hinduism believes in avatāra or incarnation of God in such beings as Viṣṇu, Rama and Kṛṣṇa to my mind they are entirely different to the Christ incarnation.

The Christ incarnation deals with the question of suffering in a very special way. A Nepalese Christian convert visited our church recently. He had been the leader of a gang in Kathmandu, and had been involved in violence. He was imprisoned and tortured by the police. He came from a Hindu background. Hinduism is the faith of 81% Nepalese. His mother would say to him that she didn’t care as long as he was good. But he ended up in a Christian church and had a life-changing experience of conversion, of being born again. He felt guilt for the wrongs he had done and the sins he had committed. He felt the power of believing in Jesus and being forgiven.

This is the power of the gospel, of the Christian message, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. This was not your Hindu avatāra. And the chief difference is the suffering of God. It was God (in his essence) but in human form who suffered on the cross. He was fully human, yet in essence divine. That is, he was completely holy and without sin. Jesus knew that he had to die in this most cruel of ways. Suffering, and sin, is an existential problem. A lot of suffering is caused by people following their own desires, doing their own will. God identified in suffering with man, that is what happened, and what makes Christianity unique. It was God’s revelation of himself to humanity, and it is a revelation of a God of love. The ultimate sacrifice is the giving up of your life for your friends. He did that.

However, if things had stayed at the crucifixion, there would be no Christianity. What gives power to Christianity is that Jesus arose from the dead. The resurrection is a central claim of the Christian religion. If there was no resurrection, Christianity is an empty shell. Christ is living now in another glorious dimension and he sent the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, after his death. This event happened in Jerusalem after the resurrection at Pentecost as described in Acts, chapter 2. It is this Spirit which is in the world now and can perform healing – spiritual and physical – and miracles.

Christianity is nothing if it not a religion of power. The coming of this power is described in the New Testament. “Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.” Acts 2: 2. Again and again the Apostle Paul uses the word power to describe what happens in his own ministry. He says: “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on man’s wisdom, but on God’s power.” 1 Corinthians 2: 4-5

Why then is not everyone who asks the Lord Jesus for healing healed? It is the Lord’s will who shall be healed and his will is hidden from us. But we can be sure that it issues from his true nature which is absolute love and justice. So we should always say, not my will but thine be done even if it appears hard from a human point of view.