Friday, February 17, 2006

A Letter from Richard J. Foster of Renovare

This morning I wish to share this February letter from Richard J. Foster of Renovare. Here it is:


A funny thing happened to me on the way to writing this article on suffering. (Not funny in the sense of humorous; more in the sense of a comedy of errors.) It began with surgery on my foot to correct some old injuries (fully intended and planned for) . . . which led to an infection in the foot (not intended at all) . . . which led to taking antibiotics to fight the infection (not intended but a good thing) . . . which led to a serious allergic reaction to the antibiotics (most definitely not intended) . . . which led to an overnight stay in the Intensive Care Unit at a nearby hospital (certainly not intended but most instructive).

While much of what happened these past days was not intended by me, it afforded an excellent opportunity to deepen in the knowledge that "all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose" (Rom. 8:28). I also expanded my understanding of the insight of James into the ways trials produce in us a patient endurance (Jam. 1:2-4).

Suffering Avoidance

In the future we are going to look back on 2005 as "The Year of Suffering." The most identifying features of that year were the Asian tsunami, the hurricanes on the Gulf Coast, and the earthquake in Pakistan. These natural disasters brought death to multiplied tens-of-thousands and have displaced many more.

These terrible natural disasters remind us that suffering is painfully real. Now, this knowledge is important to us today for we live in a culture of "suffering avoidance." To be hit in the gut by suffering on a massive scale shocks us back into reality, and that reality is that suffering is a fact of human existence as we know it. We had better get used to it. We live in a good world gone bad. Even the creation which is so beautiful in so many ways has been affected by the Fall and that is how we experience it.

These all but overwhelming natural disasters are comprised of multiplied millions of stories of individual suffering. And it is the individual human suffering that we must see and understand and refuse to run from.

We speak in Christian theology of the vicarious suffering of Christ. By this we mean more than Christ's sacrifice on Calvary, though we do mean to include this pivotal event. On the cross Jesus, the Christ, took into himself all the sins and sorrows of the past, present, and future, and through his blood redeemed it all. Jesus experienced, however, not only a cross-death but also a cross-life. As the Son of God walked among us in the flesh he constantly and consistently identified with those who suffer; the bruised and the broken, the poor and the weak, the hopeless and helpless.

Standing With . . . Aching With . . . Weeping With . . .

This is where you and I come in. We are never more the Church than in our identification with those who suffer. This is one vital way we participate in the vicarious suffering of Christ (Phil. 3:10). This is why mission hospitals have always been such an important element in mission penetration throughout history. Learning to stand with, ache with, weep with those who suffer may not be everything, but it certainly stands close to the center of our apprenticeship to Jesus. And it is right here that the watching world will be able to see our love. It is love in action, love with skin on it. Here we need to be sharply counter-cultural. Rather than avoid suffering at all costs we intentionally embrace suffering to the glory of God and the good of all people.

I urge you: don't run from suffering. It is here. It is real. If you have not experienced it personally as yet, believe me, you will. And, frankly, it is all around you—at home, at work, among neighbors and friends.

Two Challenges for Avoiding Suffering Avoidance

So now, here is the first challenge I would like to place before us: find someone who is suffering within your circle of nearness. Our spiritual formation is first always local and specific. So, find a suffering human being. This will come to you as a result of prayerful watchfulness to those in your world. Neighbors. Friends. Even strangers. Then simply be with this person and allow what happens to happen. You will be led I am sure.

This is where we begin, but it is not where we end. Our circle of nearness needs to be expanded. So here is my second challenge: intentionally step outside of your circle of nearness. Experience a short term mission trip. Visit Auschwitz. Read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. Take a plunge experience into the urban life in one of our large cities.

Undertaking this second challenge will expand your circle of nearness and will guide you to the next step. I cannot describe that next step for you because it will be individual and specific to your own experience and gift set. You will be led I am sure. Then, mind the Light.

Peace and joy,

Richard J. Foster


A note from Andy: You may wish to explore what Renovare offers to us as Christians.


Blogger Mason Smith said...

There's a wonderful passage in one of Phillip Yancey's books about Jesus and suffering. I don't remember the full context, but the idea was that Jesus came to spread the News of the new Kingdon. As he was walking down the road, he saw suffering, or a suffering person approached him. Where he sees suffering, he reaches out to heal. He doesn't ignore it, but that's not his main mission. As he goes about his daily work--which for him was telling about the Good News--he cured diseases, healed the lame, gave sight to the blind, and comforted the lost. These were people who came into his "circle of nearness."
Jesus was always willing to reach out to comfort suffering when he saw it, or when it entered his sphere even though he might not have been searching for it originally.
This reminds me of another passage by Reynolds Price. He was suffering from cancer of the spine, and had a dream in which he met Our Lord on the beach. He tells Jesus about his suffering, and Jesus reaches out to him and says, "My son, your sins are forgiven." And then He turns and starts to walk away along the beach. Price wrote that in his dream, he calls out to Jesus, "Lord, my cancer--can't you heal me?" And Jesus says over his shoulder, "Oh, yes. That too."
Price was healed from his cancer and went on to write several interesting books on Christian topics.
It seems to me that the message here is that suffering takes palce on several planes at once--spiritual and physical. The true doctor attends to both areas.
Best wishes,
Mason Smith

Friday, 17 February, 2006  
Blogger Andrew Harnack said...

Mason, I can see that I need to read more of what you're reading, especially Yancy. Can you post the titles of books you recommend?

Friday, 17 February, 2006  
Blogger ~Kat said...

About a year ago, I read a Yancy book called Disappointment With God. It doesn't tell you how to get over being disappointed, but more what we as believers can expect from God, thereby preventing disappointments before they arise. It's an extremely easy read and I believe the paperback version will run you about $5 or so from a variety of online sellers. :)

Friday, 17 February, 2006  
Blogger Mason Smith said...

I've read three Yancey books and have started on a fourth. The best is probably "What's So Amazing About Grace." The Public Library has a copy that I borrowed. They also have a copy of "The Jesus I Never Knew." I think that's where the quote cited above appeared, but this second book is not as powerful as the one on grace. I then bought "The Bible Jesus Read," and really enjoyed it. Yancey was an editor for Zondervan's "The Student Bible," a version of the NIV with several dozen short articles set into the text, explaining and glossing the Scripture. Yancey spent several years in the Old Testament, so he comes to this book out of that experience. Right now I'm slowly working through "Rumors of an Another World," which is so-so, but it has an intersting chapter on sexuality and the Christian life.
Best wishes,
Mason Smith

Saturday, 18 February, 2006  
Blogger Andrew Harnack said...

Mason, I'm going to the Madison County Library on Monday to see if I can get Yancey's "What's So Amazing about Grace." June's daughter, Becky, also likes Yancey and I (sort of) remember her recommending the book. Thanks for the list! I'll start to work on it. -- Andy

Saturday, 18 February, 2006  

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