Writings by Cole Huffman

A Meditation on the Suffering of Sin

Some readers will judge from the title that this post reflects upon that suffering we bring on ourselves via sinful indulgence. Like the man who downloaded pornography on the company computer and suffered job termination as a consequence, or the businesswoman whose outburst at a flight attendant resulted in her suffering a humiliating airport arrest. Other readers will anticipate a lament on the damage done by others’ sins against us. Like how being victimized, deceived, abandoned, lied about—any and all of the obvious ways others hurt or abuse or take undue advantage of us—inflicts personal suffering. 

I want to take a less obvious angle on the suffering of sin. A familiar but nevertheless true way of putting things is to say that sin includes not only the commission of acts God says are bad for us and/or others (Eph. 5:1-12), but also the omission of what God says is good (Jas. 4:17). And yet there’s an X factor to the suffering of sin that’s not always easy to figure. So take up your No. 2 pencils now, class, and begin: If a train leaves St. Louis at 7:50 pm traveling west at an average of 95 mph, and another train leaves Denver headed east at 8:30 pm averaging 75 mph….

No, not that. This: Let’s say two people in the church, Euodia and Syntyche, are on a collision course because Euodia wants public affirmation from Syntyche for Euodia’s act of generous service. Syntyche doesn’t know of this until Epaphroditus informs her of it. Syntyche is perturbed to learn that Euodia isn’t as mature/selfless/humble as Syntyche thought. Syntyche considers such need for stroking to be evidence of spiritual immaturity if not a character flaw. 

What should Syntyche do? If she chooses not to act on the information Epaphroditus gave her and withhold the affirmation Euodia craves, Euodia will feel underappreciated and likely develop a sour attitude toward Syntyche. If Syntyche decides to confront Euodia for what Syntyche considers unbecoming character the most likely result will be indignant denial, anger, and/or self-justifications. 

Syntyche would like to just tell Euodia off; tell her to stop thinking of herself so much; tell her to learn how to serve without needing anything in return. And that Euodia might deserve such a rebuke is not lost on Epaphroditus either. But Epaphroditus counsels Syntyche in a direction she hadn’t ever considered: Sometimes we do good for another because the good we do for them keeps them from greater sin.

In other words, Epaphroditus commends to Syntyche the quality of forbearance. Forbearance is the “reasonableness” of Philippians 4:5: “Let you reasonableness (forbearance) be known to everyone.” Forbearance is the quality of voluntarily suffering the effects of another’s sin.

Bill Hull, in his book The Complete Book of Discipleship, ponders an interesting question once asked of him:

What has been your greatest sacrifice as a pastor? I think it is the discipline to treat certain people better than they should be treated. Some people should be told off, rebuked, and straightened out. But I find myself being careful how I treat them and holding my tongue. I let them shoot at me and accuse me and blame me for their problems. I let them hold me to a higher standard than they have for themselves…. I realize that treating people better than they deserve is the gospel, the kingdom of God, and the essence of love. I must deny myself the freedom to speak my mind and let people have it.” (pp. 122-23)

In the full context of his words Hull does not say one can never rebuke or correct. He says more often than not he chooses to exercise forbearance and there is personal suffering in it—for anyone who forbears. 

So the less obvious angle on the suffering of sin is sacrificing the urge to “teach a lesson” to the offender; taking the higher road when you want to kick someone to the curb; doing good for another in a way that may go against my grain but keeps him from the sin of “sowing discord among brothers” (Prov. 6:19).

Mark well Hull’s words: I realize that treating people better than they deserve is the gospel, the kingdom of God, and the essence of love. Love will suffer but it will also cleanse. “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).
Posted by Cole Huffman at 2:57 PM
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