What Is Love? Part III – Suffering

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What Is Love? Part I – Definitions
What Is Love? Part II – Gethsemane

Jeanne Guyon wrote, “You must see the wisdom of God’s plan in allowing . . . troubles to happen . . . There are two ways of handling little children. One is to give them all they want when they want it. Another is to give them only what is good for them so that they will grow up into maturity and not be spoiled. Your wise Father chooses the best way for you.” (Intimacy With Christ)

If we are parents, giving our children a strong sense of being loved through attention and affection is the foundation. But it is also imperative to allow appropriate suffering into our children’s lives. Without it they cannot grow; without it they will be left without empathy, compassion, self-discipline, respect for authority, and will not accept responsibility for their actions.

Much of this suffering will have to do with their actions. Actions have consequences; in the lives of our children, negative actions must be allowed to produce negative results. Our love must not be conditional, but we make their circumstances contingent upon their actions. A child who whines continually must be shown that whining produces a negative effect, every time – removal from the society of dad or mom to sit alone on a bed.

Some suffering will have nothing to do with their actions. If my son wants something very much, and I believe it would not be beneficial or even detrimental for him to have, I should say no, no matter how good it seems to him.

Other suffering has much less to do with what is good for him. Ultimately, I want him to be a benefit to others. I want him to be loving, kind, strong, creative, because I want him to love others, and benefit the world. So he must learn to get up on time; he must learn to not leave his clothes lying on the floor. He must learn to help those younger than himself, even when he doesn’t feel like it. He must do chores of some kind, and learn to do good work with a good attitude, to be a benefit to his future wife and children, and others in the world.

Suffering is necessary. Now, to my son, no suffering seems pleasant or even relevant at the time. He cannot see why he must go with me to take the trash to the dump. He is reading! I am interrupting! Why can’t his sister go? It doesn’t make any sense to him. But I know that some form of having to do what he doesn’t want to do is good for him, and good for the other people in his future – wife, children, friends, co-workers, and even enemies.

I am an earthly father. I am looking to my son’s eternal future, yes, but I cannot fully see the circumstances there. Mostly I am preparing him for life in this world, knowing that a man cannot always do what he wants, cannot always follow the strongest impulse, cannot long avoid taking the garbage out or getting up at a certain time or being courteous to others. My son may be called on to do great things, like providing for and raising a family, and great things require great character. If I am not preparing my son for this (and in many moments I have not), I am not loving my son. As a parent I am often to sacrifice my son’s immediate wants and desires for what I know he can and must be for others in the future.

The heavenly Father has eternal goals and plans for us beyond anything we could imagine. He may be preparing us to rule cities and judge angels, or to write the new royal score for the King’s symphony. Whatever it is, it will require love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, humility, and moderation (the ability to go the right length and no further with our desires) – and especially courage.

Why did God put his Son through an earthly life of being colored as a bastard (“We are not born of fornication. We are children of Abraham!”)? He was given to a fate of no reputation, despised, a wanderer, no place here he could call home, driven by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness alone to be tempted personally by  Satan. He was hated and persecuted endlessly by the religious leaders. His short-lived adulation by the populace came to nothing; in no time at all they were shouting “Crucify him!” And of course we know his end: mocked, hit in the face, whipped, made to carry a heavy beam on a bleeding back, then thick, dull spikes hammered through skin, piercing hands and feet, smashing through flesh and bone, tendons, nerves. More mocking and cruelty. And finally the worst – “My God, my God” (not “my Father”), “Why have you forsaken me?”

This was the love of God?

The Father knew the end result, saw the end from the beginning. He knew the joy suffering would produce, not only in the life of Jesus but through him flowing outward to an eternal Kingdom of saved people.

But Jesus, having set aside his omniscience, had to wrestle with his humanity, his own desires, and subject them to the Father’s will. All Jesus knew was that the Father is good, and works all things after the counsel of his own will, working all things together for good to them that love God and are called according to his purpose. Jesus said, “Not my will, but thine be done. In essence, “The Father’s will is my will, too, my deepest will.” In Gethsemane, when he finally stood and walked to meet the mob, he knew within himself that he was made for this moment, knowing he was not merely a human being but a unification of the human and Divine.

Winner of 147 Grammys (or so), Ron Block is the banjo-ninja portion of Alison Kraus and Union Station. When he's not laying down a bluegrass-style martial-arts whoopin' on audiences around the world, he's taking care of his donkey named "Trash" and keeping himself busy by being one of the most well-read and thoughtful people we know.


20 Comments

  1. James Witmer

    Thanks, Ron. This is the truth that makes sense of James 1:2

    Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds.

    Without the loving Father, this is masochism, not faith. In His hands, though, suffering and faith are tools that prepare us to enjoy Him forever.

    You mention the fruit of the Spirit. I’m not usually a detail guy, but I love seeing “patience” translated as “long-suffering”. That way it warns of what we are called to, but also encourages by admitting that giving up our rights (even the small ones), feels hard because it IS. But it has context in the work of the Spirit, and that is cause for hope.

  2. Loren Warnemuende

    Thanks, Ron. I needed this reminder and encouragement as to why I have to stay consistent and strong in raising my kids. Parenting is so tough sometimes! I was just saying to my mom that at times I think I’m being to harsh, and other times too lenient. Most of all, though, my husband and I want our kids to have a heart like Christ and a heart for him, and I feel so human and frail in the way that plays out in my life and mothering. I was reminded again here, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” (Luke 11:13) I am so thankful for my perfect heavenly Father!

  3. Wife, Mother, Gardener

    “As a parent I am often to sacrifice my son’s immediate wants and desires for what I know he can and must be for others in the future.”

    By God’s mercy He will turn those wants and desires, transform them into what He wants for them. This is a good reminder for today. Thank you!

  4. Jaclyn

    Thank you so much, Ron. This is deeply healing to a hurting a heart– wondering why hurts and humiliations come. It is such a comfort to think that Jesus felt worse hurts, and willfully endured them so we all could all see God’s glory in full, shocking beauty.

  5. Julie Silander

    Thanks so much. I’ve been stopped by Wangerin’s “Reliving the Passion” this week – particularly the following passage:

    “Happiness lives where sorrow is not. When sorrow arrives, happiness dies. It can’t stand pain. Joy, on the other hand, rises from sorrow and therefore can withstand all grief. Joy, but the grace of God, is the transfiguration of suffering into endurance, and of endurance into character, and of character into hope – and the hope that becomes our joy does not (as happiness must for those who depend on it) disappoint us.”

    The pursuit of happiness is woven so tightly into the fabric of our culture – even the way in which we use the word “blessings” to refer to that which makes life more pleasurable and less painful. Yet when we look at scripture, the upside down kingdom is once again what we don’t expect. If I want my children to be people of great character, experience deep peace, and be a blessing to others, then does my parenting reflect (and embrace) the suffering that will ultimately play a role in those outcomes? Do I spend my energies chasing after happiness, or am I willing to partake in the suffering that leads to joy?

    So very grateful for a Father who wants more for us…

  6. Joseph Morse

    Ron I just stopped at the 7th paragraph! You’re killing me. Sniff, Sniff! I’m there right now! Should have seen what I had to go through with the home work reading tonight. I’ll read the rest tomorrow. Everything you are saying is me. I received personal confirmation from your words about raising children as an earthly father. I want to give in all the time so that they will be happy but then fight tooth and nail having them think ill of me just so they can do what is right. I could talk, talk, talk, about this subject. 1 to 10, I say 10 on this timely subject. Now I must practice making them suffer as we go through the “your going to bed battle.” The spirit has been looking over your shoulder and while typing this post. FOR SURE!!!

  7. kelli

    This echoes George MacDonald as well as C.S. Lewis. I’ve had to come back and read this one a few times. So good, Ron.

  8. Jeanine

    “My son may be called on to do great things, like providing for and raising a family, and great things require great character.”

    Yes, yes, YES! Oh, that we would keep this vision and not get in the way of God’s working in the lives of our children.

  9. Joseph Morse

    Jeanine. All power to you! The young years are so sort and we just have this small space of time until they spend the rest of their lives as adults. Its a fragile balance, I want to be fun and give them good years but also I need to stand toe to toe with them in their character building. I have two beautiful boys that have a called forth purpose in life as it was revealed to me and a few others have confirmed my experience. I have to be the speaker phone of God for them aside from my sometimes imperfect ways. I pray always to be lead and know the difference of kindness and patience and when to be strict and unmoving. I could yell at them all day long if I let it work that way. Instead, there are times I have to let some things go and not get into a nag bag. Sometimes the mother, though I love her, gets in that rut and after awhile everything she says just goes past their ears without any substance or affect. I love being a father and I am blessed to hear a word of instruction or confirmation as was done in this post. Now I have to read the rest of it. :)))

  10. Stacy Grubb

    Somehow, some way I’ve grown into being very guarded and incredulous toward love. Maybe it was all the melodramatic music I listened to…and wrote. But I feel a physical tensing as if to reject the notion of love every time I hear the word or somebody wants to talk about it. The exception is my love for my children and then children in general. That feels very real and permanent and able to take on anything. That love comes running. It sounds the alarm. It is the first to draw a sword at the slightest hint of opposition. I tend to hang on every word when someone sets out to explain love – and why it hurts…and why that’s in the design. Maybe it’s the songwriter in me that rejects what I hear. If tough love is justified, then what would I write about?

  11. Ms. Wynn

    My heart is just full. This is beautiful!

    “As a parent I am often to sacrifice my son’s immediate wants and desires for what I know he can and must be for others in the future.”

    This is the essence of God’s great love. We only see a shadow, but he sees us made whole. How gracious of you, Ron, to share with us these truths!

    Many blessings,
    B. Wynn

  12. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Thanks to all for the comments. Julie, love the Wangerin quote and your commentary.

    James, yes on long-suffering. I use the KJV or NKJV but often find other versions to use in posts because sometimes people aren’t used to the older versions.

    Stacy: we have to dive into God himself. We can learn all about him, but apart from the life change that comes from reliance on the Spirit, we can’t change our stinkin’ thinkin’. There are areas in my psyche I am discovering have not been given over. The doors have to be opened there to God – the inner land must be taken, lest we waste vast quantities of the inner acreage and resources to which we have a divinely authored claim.

    Ms. Wynn: yes, shadow. We see through a glass darkly. I have wondered of late about this – why. I think of Lucifer and his army, who stood in the presence of God and saw the divine glory and majesty, and yet, inexplicably, chose to follow his own pride and deceived self. He saw God’s glory, and yet did not faithe. I saw the look on my mother’s face when she saw Jesus, or the angels, or whatever it was, when she passed a couple of years ago. It was astonishment, joy, wonder, awe. I had never seen that look on her face, ever, to that degree. She finally saw the divine glory that Lucifer disavowed.

    God is producing a group of people who will faithe in him even though we do not see anything but shadows and hints of the divine presence. “Blessed are they which have not seen, and yet faithe.”

  13. mike

    I wrote these notes the other day after hearing a message by Peter Hiett at The Sanctuary Downtown in Denver

    His Glory is His wounds and He has shared His Glory with us. He has given us body broken, blood shed. When we hide our wounds, we hide His Glory. His bride, us, is the source of His wounds. What if our every wound is orchestrated by Him so that we share His wounds with others. What if our wounds are not our shame but His glory, so that we are broke and bleed for others.

  14. Joseph Morse

    Mr. Ron,

    Ron, Just read your last post. Sorry to hear about the loss of your mother a few years ago. I didn’t know that about you. The experience you mention is very common among believers I have known. I lost my best friend a while ago and he said he felt an extra hand on him while he was being prayed for and was sure it was a supernatural angel. Others I have known before they passed on, heard singing or groups of excited sounding voices. My Grand Mother actually died and was revived again and said she looked down at herself and could see the doctor’s working on her. These were all Christian people I knew that are now dead. They taught me not to be afraid of death. Sorry again for the loss of your mother. That must still be hurtful to you and your family.
    .

  15. Leesa Mohler

    I went back re-read your article about “What Is Suffering?” Which is very appropriate for this time of the year. So often we get caught up in the physical suffering without realizing the amazing faith Jesus had in God his Father that all things will work to the good. Easter for me is a time to celebrate the trust and faith of Christ and the fact that God is faithful and he does fulfill his promises. Thanks again for your wise words.

    “The Father knew the end result, saw the end from the beginning. He knew the joy suffering would produce, not only in the life of Jesus but through him flowing outward to an eternal Kingdom of saved people.

    But Jesus, having set aside his omniscience, had to wrestle with his humanity, his own desires, and subject them to the Father’s will. All Jesus knew was that the Father is good, and works all things after the counsel of his own will, working all things together for good to them that love God and are called according to his purpose. Jesus said, “Not my will, but thine be done. In essence, “The Father’s will is my will, too, my deepest will.” In Gethsemane, when he finally stood and walked to meet the mob, he knew within himself that he was made for this moment, knowing he was not merely a human being but a unification of the human and Divine.”

  16. Cherie Heringer

    Ron, you’ll recognize the name Heringer from Tony. I’m his wife. And I enjoy your prose and music. Being an East Tennessee gal I miss banjos and bluegrass in Georgia.
    I just read your suffering musings which goes right into another place your name showed up this week – the Narrow Gate foundation. I believed you played for a fundraiser for them. And sense I’m on that site you can also surmise I have someone in that age group that I’m praying for and wondering if it would be a good fit. Would love to hear your thoughts. He’s in the suffering stage now, due to choices made earlier. Not all is lost, but rather much still remains to be found and humility is becoming s daily trait. Any insights you can offer on Narrow Gate?

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