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In Light of Eternity

By La Nej Garrison

Hollywood assumes to shed provocative insight into the cultural perspective of those of us who are followers of Christ. These narratives are interesting and challenging. Recently, I watched a movie whose depiction of Christianity and biblical interpretation questioned what it means for Christians to suffer. In this period piece, Christians held antiquated mystical beliefs. In an hour and a half of emotional and tangled plot lines, the characters searched for answers looked for a remedy to their sufferings. Belief in God was reduced to a delusion. There was no redemption in their suffering, no joy, no peace, and absolutely no hope. 

The odd ending of the movie may leave the audience with a misconstrued understanding of biblical suffering. One of the significant challenges to the Christian faith is the existence of suffering. However, here is the reality; regardless of one’s belief in God, suffering is not a uniquely Christian problem. Why we suffer does not erase the fact THAT we suffer. This movie failed to grasp that while Christians suffer, we experience an intangible peace that transcends any secular understanding.

“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die…suffering, then is the badge of true discipleship.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Christian martyr. When the war began in Nazi Germany, Bonhoeffer was compelled to contribute to the establishment of the German church and rebuilding of his community. The passionate faith of African-Americans in Harlem inspired him spur on believers across the ocean. In Bonhoeffer’s “The Cost of Discipleship,” he challenges any mediocre approach to discipleship. Bonhoeffer encourages believers to lay aside the apathetic gospel that does not require daily commitment, even if it means suffering for truth. 

I recently posed an ethical dilemma to students in my Christian high school worldview class. Normally these bell ringers are used to provoke conversation and thought, with little insight from me as the teacher. But with Bonhoeffer on my mind, his words compelled me to weigh in on some of their conclusions. Most students felt the instinct to fight for individual survival, even if it meant leaving behind those whom they could help. Their justifications were varied, and I doubt many would act so selfishly. 

However, I was perplexed at how quickly they supported the individualistic notion of living without suffering and the individualistic ideal of putting themselves first. They were resolved in their pursuit happiness. What is happiness? Are we called to pursue happiness? Aren’t our deepest convictions revealed when we face trials and are challenged to sacrifice for others?

Most people have a love-hate relationship with the book of Job. We love his faith in God, but honestly, we hate his faith in God! How could he remain faithful when everything was taken away? 

According to Walt Russell, “…Job challenges us to be wise and to love God for who He is in spite of the inscrutability of our suffering. Even though we may not fully understand all of our suffering, we must still choose to cling to God and His ways. Such wise encouragement is necessary in a world where not all of life’s experiences can be fully explained this side of heaven.”  

Russell captures our struggle; this side of heaven and in Romans 8 Paul captures our struggle; in light of eternity. Paul states in Romans, that all of creation groans with the expectation and longs for redemption, which will not be realized until we reach the other side. This reality is hard to grasp, but it holds the key to our hope. Paul taught believers not to mourn like unbelievers. We are called to respond to life’s difficulties differently than the world because we have an eternal perspective. In these moments our persuasions are tested with the hopeful expectation of the redemptive plan of Christ whose sufferings are an example and our source of hope. The secular world does not understand the believer’s response to suffering nor does it grasp the depth of God’s saving grace.

Bonhoeffer accepted suffering, not as a means of salvation; but as an expression of his salvific faith. One of the guards with Bonhoeffer’s before his hanging testified to this Christian martyr’s unshakeable faith and resilient fight for truth. Bonhoeffer’s peacefully accepted call and his execution moved everyone who witnessed it. 

We follow Christ when it costs us everything because it cost Him everything. 

“For I consider the sufferings of this present time are not worth to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18, NKJV)

Our callings may differ, and our challenges will not be the same, but to every sister or brother in Christ, I am confident of this one thing, God’s grace is sufficient in times of your weakness. Therefore, in light of eternity, we unwaveringly stand for the gospel of truth amid our suffering.

  1. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship. Pocket Books, 1995.
  2.  Walt Russell, Playing with Fire: How the Bible Ignites Change in Your Soul. NavPress Publishing, 2000. 

About the Author: La Nej A. Garrison, MA, is a chaplain, speaker, editor, writer, and philosopher. She is married with three wild boys and two useless dogs!

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