I know the Why of Suffering
(Reflection - September 2003)

Beloved brothers and sisters,

Loving greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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.

Why me?
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.

The atonement
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 Testament.

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.

Why me
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

On 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 think.”

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 lived.

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.

David Levin

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