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Called to Suffering, Partakers of Joy: An Interview with Ajith Fernando

 

Pneuma Review: You say that the church has a blind spot about suffering. Why do we need a theology of suffering?

Joy is one of the most important features of Christianity.

Ajith Fernando: If we do not have a theology of suffering, we do not have strength to face the cross which Christ promised to all who follow him. When suffering and pain come we feel God has abandoned us and we become disillusioned and angry. Then our suffering becomes much more severe than it should be. We lose the joy which gives us the strength to suffer. So we become losers all around.

What if we knew that this cross is going to reap something wonderful, and that God has not abandoned us, and that the most valuable things in our life are still intact? Then we would realize that the suffering is not a big deal. History shows us that some of the most glorious blessings of God were preceded by suffering which opened the door to the blessing. This is most vividly shown in the death of Christ where the greatest tragedy in history became the greatest triumph. No wonder the first Christians meditated on how God’s sovereignty was expressed through the death of Christ when they faced the first serious opposition to Christianity (Acts 4:27-28).

If we do not have a theology of suffering, we do not have strength to face the cross which Christ promised to all who follow him.

Another unfortunate result is that when people are not theologically prepared for suffering, often they move away from God’s call and settle for something much less glorious than what God intended for them. In our country there is a lot of opposition when we evangelize people of other faiths. Those who go to unreached areas with the gospel will face severe opposition during the first few years. But after about eight to ten years the opposition subsides and the Christians are usually accepted as legitimate members of the society. But many do not stick it out during those initial years of persecution. They say that this does not seem to be God’s will. They leave and miss out on the great things that God could have done through them.

 

Pneuma Review: What would you say to a church leader that believes that it is not God’s will for Christians to suffer?

Joy is one of the great incentives to holiness. It is such a wonderful treasure that we will not allow anything to take it away.

Ajith Fernando: I would ask him or her to examine the evidence in the Bible. You cannot read the Bible honestly—especially the Epistles—and come up with such a conclusion. Some say that Christ bore the curse for us and therefore we do not need to experience the effects of the curse. But all those passages about suffering in the Epistles and Revelation were written after the death and resurrection of Christ. The Bible teaches, without a doubt, that we are more than conquerors in all things and that every experience will reap something which is good. But the means of growing that good fruit and conquest may be suffering. This, of course, makes the conquest all the more valuable and exciting!

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Category: Living the Faith, Summer 2008

About the Author: Ajith Fernando is the Teaching Director of Youth for Christ after being its national director in Sri Lanka for 35 years. He and his wife, Nelun, are active in church ministering primarily to the urban poor. His ministry includes mentoring younger staff and counseling Christian workers. He is the author of fifteen books published in nineteen languages. www.ajithfernando.org. Facebook.

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