Is Suffering Proof That God Has Cancelled Us, or That We Should Cancel God?
Has God cancelled us? Should we cancel God?
There is a lot of talk about cancel culture in our day. The idea is that when someone does something offensive, their influence is stripped away. They fall from everyone’s radar. Perhaps we feel like we have disappeared off God’s radar. Perhaps there are some who think God should disappear from theirs.
Has God Abandoned Us?
When we experience pain and suffering, we may feel like God has cancelled us, that He has abandoned us.
Jesus encourages the disciples knowing they will soon feel abandoned. As related in John chapter 14, Jesus knows the disciples will be troubled when he tells them that he is going away, so he begins:
Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. (John 14:1-3 NRSV)
The disciples are going to feel at a loss, like Jesus has abandoned them. Jesus will go to the Father, but they will still be left behind in the same old dark world, where pain and suffering still happens. If anything, their suffering will increase as they begin to speak about Jesus to people who do not want their comfortable status quo disrupted. In some ways it may seem like nothing has changed at all.
But Jesus tells them to not be troubled, to trust in God, to trust in himself. He tells them that there are many rooms in the Father’s house. That particular verse has often been translated rather poorly. The ‘many rooms’ or ‘many mansions’ idea comes from the ancient practice of building extra ‘rooms’ onto a home to accommodate a growing family. When your son grew up and got married, he wouldn’t necessarily leave home, but rather he would get married and bring his wife home. ‘Rooms’ would be added onto the house to accommodate everyone. What Jesus is saying then, is that though you may feel I am abandoning you, we will be together again, in fact together with the Father. This is a growing family and there will be room for you and many others when you come home!
The Promises of Jesus
But that is not all:
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. (John 14:15-17 NRSV)
Though Jesus is going away, the Spirit will be near, in fact very close, indwelling the disciples even, including we who become his disciples today. Taken together, God has prepared a home for us, and has made himself at home within us.
Now let us consider the promises of Jesus here. Jesus did not promise to protect the disciples from all difficulty or suffering. They were left in the dark world like everyone else, just as we live in a dark world today. In fact Jesus warns them that they will suffer more, because of being Christians:
As for yourselves, beware; for they will hand you over to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them. And the good news must first be proclaimed to all nations. When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. (Mark 13:9-11 NRSV)
The early Christians were not bubble wrapped by God. Neither are we.
The laws of nature still impact Christians, like they do anyone else. When I dumped my motorcycle a few years back, I hit the ground as hard as the motorcycle and as hard as anyone who is not a Christian. If we, who are Christians, are not careful around a contagious virus, we will catch it like anyone else.
We Will Face Trouble
The promise of Jesus is not to shield us from all harm, though there are moments that does happen, but to walk with us through difficulty and suffering when it comes.
When we face trouble, it is not evidence that God has cancelled us or abandoned us, it is evidence that we are human beings living in a beautiful, but broken, world.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. (John 14:27 NRSV)
Jesus told the disciples to not let their hearts be troubled because he knew that would be the very thing that would happen. The light of the world was leaving them in a dark world. It should be no surprise that there will be times our hearts may be troubled, for we too live in that beautiful, yet often dark and difficult world.
Let us be encouraged by the promises of Jesus. We will be at home with God someday. God is very much at home with us, even within us, on the journey home.
Can We Cancel God?
When we experience pain and suffering, we may feel like cancelling God, like abandoning Christianity.
Can we cancel God? We can, and often do, take offence at the suffering in the world, and the seeming lack of answers to our prayers. The writers of the Psalms did not hold back a similar disgust in their prayers.
However, what we have already looked at is applicable here also. Jesus did not promise the perfect life, free from troubles. In fact, when we look at the testimony of Bible as a whole, we see that troubles happen for people from Genesis right through to Revelation. We should not be surprised when troubles happen for us now.
If we think that Jesus promised a trouble free life, then when a crisis hits we will either doubt ourselves, that we don’t have enough faith or enough holiness, or we will doubt God. We would be better to doubt our understanding of God’s promises, our theology of how things work.
God does not promise the perfect, trouble-free life, but his presence through a predictably troubled life.
God is Present With Us
God promises to be present to a people he should cancel! Far from cancelling us because of our sin, he embraces us in all our messiness, then he invites us to walk with him. We get to decide if we are going to walk with him. Or reject him.
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6 NRSV)
Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, there can be no other way for reconciliation with God apart from God reconciling us to himself. We can never be holy enough on our own, we can never cover over our sins on our own. We need help. God gives that help. We can reject God, we can reject Jesus, we cannot cancel Him.
In our cancel culture, careers are trashed and friendships are ended as people are cancelled. We can think of all kinds of celebrities who are no longer getting big roles. We can try to cancel Jesus, but he is still Lord, he still has the greatest role. He is the way, the truth and the life. And he still offers to walk with us as a friend.
I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33 NIV)
(The full sermon can be seen as part of this “online worship expression”)
Originally published on Clarke’s blog. Reprinted with permission.