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Thriving in the Midst of Suffering

Christian theology "does not believe that all suffering serves some larger purpose of God," or "that the world as we find it is the best of all possible worlds and that all things fit into some larger sublime plan." Rather, God will find much of history false and damnable, writes New Testament scholar C. Kavin Rowe, partially quoting David Bentley Hart's reflection on the Asian tsunami of 2004, in an essay that is part of his e-book "Thriving Communities: The Pattern of Church Life Then and Now."

Rowe's reflective essay, published on the website of Faith & Leadership, an online offering of Leadership Education at Duke Divinity School, argues that the Book of Acts "portrays Christian communities that thrive despite suffering — not because of an affirmation of the meaningfulness of all difficulty but because of the hope they know from the pattern of Jesus' life." It is a hope of resurrection, writes Rowe, based in the understanding that Jesus was both crucified and raised, that "suffering is ultimately an indispensable part of Christian community" because "it was part of Jesus' own existence." Therefore, without trying to make sense of suffering, or to assume God proposes that we suffer, early Christians did not recoil from suffering and difficulty, as modern people are inclined to do, but "rejoice[d] in the occasion for such affliction" because "it gives them an opportunity to witness to the Lord Jesus" who suffered and died, yet was raised anew to eternal life. "We follow in his pattern, Acts teaches, insofar as we exist in the reality of crucifixion and hold fast to the hope of resurrection."

For more on making Scriptural sense of suffering, see our feature article, "Hearing Job: Vindicating the Traumatized."

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