Could our Suffering be a Gift?
Debbie Maken and Captain Sensible constantly speak about how singleness cannot be a gift because of the fact that it produces suffering. In fact, if you read the promo for Debbie Maken's book on Amazon it says:
Singleness is a gift; at least that's what we've been taught. But if singleness is a gift, then why does it make us feel so miserable so often? Does God really want his children to embrace a gift they resent so much?
Debbie Maken proposes that marriage is the fundamental design and structure for life that God chose for his people. She argues that the church needs to reemphasize the importance of the gift of marriage. This book issues a challenge to churches in their teaching and attitudes toward singleness and to believers in their understanding of God' s intentions regarding marriage.
What if the answer were, even though you resent it, and it makes you feel miserable, it is still a gift, because even the things that you resent, and that make you feel miserable, are gifts? Of course, Debbie Maken and Captain Sensible would probably mock such an idea. However, as I pointed out, mockery is not an argument.
This brings me to one of my favorite sermons by one of my favorite speakers. Pastor William Shishko is pastor of Franklin Square Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and professor of pastoral theology at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Back in 2003, he preached a series on suffering called Where's God When it Hurts? One of my favorite sermons is part 3 of this five part sermon series, where Pastor Shishko talks about how Christ relates to our suffering. It is one of the best expositions of the phrase "fill up what is lacking in Christ afflictions" in Colossians 1:20 that I have ever seen. Not only that, but Pastor Shishko shows the necessity, even the goodness of suffering in our lives. How is it that the suffering of Christ is related to our suffering? How does it relate to our salvation as a whole? How does it help us to even define salvation? I was listening to it again this morning and was just struck by how relevant the sermon is to, not only our views of marriage and singleness, but also the modern church in general.
Sometimes discernment is required in these little areas so that we can have discernment in these greater areas. One of the many reasons why Debbie Maken and Captain Sensible's ideas have absolutely no appeal to me is because of the fact that I want to know Christ above all things, including being married. That is, if my singleness makes me know Christ more, it is to be perferred. Even if I suffer in "protracted singleness," and it helps me know Christ more, I would rather know Christ than marry. Now, could I have both? Yes, God grants both to many people. However, ultimately, it is more important to me to know Christ than anything else. Therefore, as I learn the sufferings of Christ, I am learning more and more to trust in him in whether I get what I want, or whether I do not. I know that, whether I go through times of pleasure or times of suffering, Christ is right there going through it together with me.
Throughout in this series, Pastor Shishko quotes a man by the name of Samuel Rutherford, a man who suffered greatly for his faith. Rutherford said that he feared that he might make his suffering an idol, because, through his suffering, he knew Christ more. Sadly, this is not a problem in the modern church. This is one case where comparing the problems of the church in Rutherford's time and the problems of the church in our time says a whole lot about the state of the church today.