I know the Why of Suffering
(Reflection - September 2003)
brothers and sisters,
Loving greetings in the name of our Lord
You’re thinking, “the title to this
letter sounds a little presumptuous, so let me rephrase it: I know the why
of my suffering.”
I could never understand
the why of the trials and suffering of others, but I can empathize with
them. You often hear people say “Why did this happen to such a good
brother or sister? They were pillars of their ecclesias. I just don’t
understand why God would take them from us in their prime?”
This is somewhat like Job. I’ve done
everything required and then some. Why should I suffer like this? I have
served God and suddenly I’ve lost every thing. And now I’ve lost my health.
We also have heard, “He didn’t deserve
that. That’s not fair.”
We all know the scripture tells us that we
must suffer for Christ, and life just isn’t fair. No explanation needed
there. We accept this on the intellectual level.
God and His Son loved me enough
to make me suffer.
I now know that God loves me
and counts me one of his servants worthy of a fellowship of suffering. I
hope and pray that this does not sound egotistical, or that I have ascended
to some higher and loftier spiritual plane above others. It certainly
doesn’t mean “once saved, always saved.” It just means that one
person’s faith has grown.
I now understand what Paul means by
“we preach Christ crucified…Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of
God.” I understand now by experience the suffering and faith of those
worthies mentioned in Hebrews 11. The suffering and self-sacrifice of our
Lord and the apostles has real meaning to me.
When our Lord was
crucified, the atonement was demonstrated. Daily he lived to do his
Father’s will. He was perfectly obedient and crucified the flesh daily.
The cross was the crowning demonstration of the atonement.
For the generations of those who couldn’t
witness that glorious 3 ½ years, God graciously provided us the New
The Christadelphian community as a whole has
strayed from the principle of the atonement. I’m not saying
that there is complete failure, or that there are not individuals who
practice the principles of the atonement. What I am saying is
that as a community we have failed.
We have spent endless
hours formulating statements of faith, explanations of statements of faith,
explanations of explanations, position statements, highly detailed
expositions and policies. We have had bitter divisions in the body which
did not glorify God, nor did they honor the principles of the atonement.
Let me say here that a statement of faith
is important, that expositions are important, that
agreement on these principles are important. What I am saying is that all
sides have been wrong in all these controversies. Granted, somebody is
ultimately “right,” but it is God who should have been
shown to be right. When did that ever happen?
This contemporary example should suffice to
illustrate what I mean by living and practicing the atonement.
A sister, some years ago, donated a kidney
to her brother, whose kidneys had failed. His transplanted kidney began to
falter recently and he needed another transplant. This time his son donated
his kidney to save his father. This is an example of living the atonement.
The son was probably not able to give any detailed exposition of the
atonement -- he lived it.
I now know the
why for me. He loves me enough to make me suffer so that my faith
may grow toward the end that I will be in His Kingdom This has given me a
“peace that passes all understanding.” I can whole-heartedly thank
him for His love and grace toward me. No matter the outcome I am at peace.
Suffering is about self-sacrifice,
“crucifying the flesh.” It is about giving of time or money until it
becomes a true self-sacrifice.
This isn’t about me, it’s all about God.
So, I am at perfect peace with whatever comes.
With peace love and grace to you all,
Gary Burns (who
recently fell asleep in Christ of leukemia.)
Brother Gary Burns
June 14, 2003, at his home in Richmond, Virginia, Bro. Gary Burns
fell asleep in the Lord after a year-and-a-half battle with leukemia. To
say that Gary lost his battle with leukemia would give undue emphasis to
physical matters. Gary’s faith and character triumphed over his disease.
He won the real battle, the battle of attitude. Not once did I hear a word
of complaint or questioning from Gary. He said, “I know why I’m sick—I’m
human, and this is what happens to humans. The question is not ‘why me?’
but ‘now what?’ How do I deal with this?” For Gary, it meant counting
his daily blessings, showing his concern for others, and living life
usefully during the days he had.
For most of Gary’s life, he belonged to a
small slot of an already fractured segment of believers. In the past decade,
however, in response to personal and ecclesial turmoil, Gary turned inward
in his thinking and outward in his perspective. He undertook the
all-too-uncommon task of introspection. He mastered the rarest of human
attributes: escaping from the abyss of self-righteousness. He admitted he
was fundamentally flawed in his approach to religion, and then he vigorously
pursued setting his course aright. A synopsis of his spiritual journey
appeared in the previous issue of the Tidings under the title
“Confessions of a Legalist.” It is a statement of candor and personal
introspection. What made Gary a champion was his ability to learn to
distinguish between “what I’ve always thought” and “how I ought to
But there’s more to the story. Gary just
didn’t change his mind; he changed his life. And then he went about the
task, in his usual focused manner, of making sure that everyone knew about
it. He made it a point to visit ecclesias that he previously never
considered worthy of his presence. He stood on the platform and announced
his shame for his years of separatist and disparaging behavior. He made
amends with brothers and sisters he had estranged. He explored any avenue
of reconciliation on a personal, ecclesial, and national basis.
Gary devoted himself to reconciliation and
unity, ultimately resulting in his joining the worldwide body of Christ a
few years ago, when Gary and Lindsay became members of the Petersburg, VA,
ecclesia. The internal conflicts they had to resolve before such a move
caused great stress; to take action in this circumstance requires enormous
personal strength of conviction. Coming from their paradigm to make a bold
move for unity manifested the highest degree of discipleship.
We had our personal rapprochement in 1994;
Gary mentioned this in his article. God brought us together under almost
comical circumstances. I had agreed, very reluctantly, to teach a class on
Legalism vs. Faith at a Bible school. It was odd that I would even be
teaching at a school where Gary would attend, and we each had little
enthusiasm for each other’s presence when we checked in. The end of the
week, however, (omitting much warm detail) found us in embrace and new-found
brotherly relationship, that special place reserved only for those who have
been blessed with reconciliation.
After Gary became ill with leukemia, he
stepped up his motivation and activity, but often found that he had little
energy to carry out his desires. He never focused on Gary and Gary’s
problems. Gary wouldn’t let a call or visit dwell long on his
condition—there were more important issues to deal with. A week before he
died, he made a last visit to the Petersburg meeting, where he had been able
to attend only sporadically after he became sick. Drawing an oxygen tank
behind him, barely able to move on his own, hardly able even to talk, the
emaciated figure strengthened the faith of the members and exhorted them to
love and unity. Everything for him was about God; nothing was about Gary.
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune had wrought nothing but the
beautification of character.
To have known him for some thirty years, to
have had estrangement and reconciliation, and then work beside him for a few
short years, has been a unique and very powerful experience, certainly one
of the great influences of my life. At his memorial service, I referred to
Socrates’ famous quote, “the unexamined life is not worth living.” On
that account, Gary’s life would be among the most worthwhile lives ever
Nothing can ever replace a loss such as
this; the way to make sense of it is to emulate the characteristics of love
he so exemplified.