The Rev. William Klock: “Finding God in our Suffering”
It is good to return to the study of the Book of Genesis, with the excellent sermon Finding God in our Suffering by the Rev. William Klock of Christ Church REC in Oregon. This sermon is based on verses 8 and 16-29 of Genesis 35, which tell us about four losses sustained by Jacob in that time–as Fr. Klock says, “three deaths and one very big sin.” In those years Jacob lost Deborah (Rebekah’s nurse), Rachel, his beloved wife, and his father Isaac to death–and then also had to suffer the ignominy of great sin on the part of his firstborn Reuben. But Fr. Klock points out that there were some important lessons learned by Jacob from these losses:
First, sorrow is not always punishment. Much of the time we bring sorrow on ourselves because of our own sin, but sorrow isn’t always the result of personal sin. Deborah’s death came just at the time what Jacob was getting right with God. The death of Rachel and Reuben’s sin weren’t, as far as we can tell from the text, the result of anything wrong that Jacob might have done. Sorrow isn’t necessarily punishment; in fact, it might be just the opposite. It all depends on where we’re at spiritually and how we understand the sorrow and sadness in our lives. If we’re right with God, we can meet it as “Israel,” not as “Jacob,” and find in it the message that God is sending us. Every affliction can be view two ways; and what from one viewpoint we might see as Benoni, from the other we might see as Benjamin. It all depends on our faith; and if our faith is real and true, then, in the words of the hymn, “faith can sing through days of sorrow.”
Jacob also learned that sadness and sorrow are often used by God for spiritual training. Discipline is a very different thing from punishing. The author of Hebrews tells us: “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?” There’s a connection between discipleship and discipline. We can only become real disciples through discipline. The word translated as “discipline” in Hebrew 12:7, in Greek, literally means “son-making.” God makes us his sons – his children – by subjecting us, or allowing us to be subjected, to training and discipline.
Finally, Jacob learned that sadness and sorrow are intended to grow in us the peaceful fruits of righteousness. I think that many Christians can say with David, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn.” And “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now…” We can’t overlook the place of tribulation in the life of the believer, as St. Paul describes it in Romans 5. A significant part of that tribulation is the experience of suffering that God allows. As the Son of God was made “perfect through suffering,” so the sons and daughters of God are brought to glory in the same way. Just as the glaze on a pot is made permanent by being put into the fire, so the impression of God’s truth and grace become a part of our character by our passing through the furnace of affliction. And so, even as our outward man dies, our inward man is renewed day by day. We need to yield ourselves to the divine Potter, so that he can make us into vessels for honour and so that we can be conformed to his image and likeness in order to live to his glory.
These are all profitable lessons for us all–and I thank Fr. Klock for sharing them with us.