Faith, Strength, and Suffering

After Rehoboam’s position as king was established and he had become strong, he and all Israel with him abandoned the law of the Lord.
2 Chronicles 12:1 (NIV)

I am currently doing character work and studying my lines for a play I’ll be in this October. It’s a brilliant piece of historical fiction called Freud’s Last Session by Mark St. Germain. I play the great 20th century Christian writer and thinker, C.S. Lewis. Lewis pays a visit to fellow 20th century intellectual Sigmund Freud (who will be played by my dear friend, Kevin McQuade) who was a staunch atheist. The play is set in the final weeks of the eminent psychologist’s life. Freud had escaped Nazi Germany and set up his practice in London. Ironically, the battle of world views between these two great thinkers happens to take place on the very day Britain declares war on Germany.

As Lewis and Freud discuss the nature of human suffering, Lewis makes the following observation: “We don’t think of God when we’re motoring in the countryside, only when we’re stuck on the railroad tracks and see the train coming.”

This line came to mind this morning as I read today’s chapter about King Rehoboam. The opening line of the Chronicler’s account states that Rehoboam and the nation abandoned the law of the Lord after “his position had been established and he had become strong.” In other words, Rehoboam clung to the religion of his father, grandfather, and ancestors while he was struggling, when his kingdom was in crisis, when the rebel Jereboam was leading 10 of the 12 Hebrew tribes against him, and when his grip on the throne was in doubt. As soon as his power was shored up and he regained his strength, God was no longer a necessity.

Lewis’ observation is simple, but it captures what I have observed in my own Life journey to be a very human trait. When things are going well and life is easy, when I’m experiencing a runner’s high on the road of life, then it’s easy to trust my own strength and fortune. I don’t feel a particular need for divine connection, intervention, or faith. It’s when the shit hits the proverbial fan and I’m suffering from circumstances that are out of my control that I suddenly feel the need for connection and intervention from divine power that is outside of myself. In the play, Lewis follows the previous text I quoted with his now famous line: “If pleasure is [God’s] whisper, pain is his megaphone.”

For the record, Freud responds to Lewis by arguing the opposite. He views his sufferings (and all suffering in the world) are reason to doubt and discredit any notions of God and faith. It’s a fascinating play. You should come see it ;-).

This morning I’m thinking about my current stretch on Life’s road. I’m looking back at my own experiences in both times of strength and times of suffering. Is there a contrast in my own faith during those contrasting stretches of the journey? Does my faith wane when I’m cruising along on Life’s road experiencing runner’s high? Is my faith only intense in proportion to the intensity of suffering I’m feeling in the moment? I’d like to think not. Jesus said that the sun shines and the rain falls on both the righteous and the unrighteous. Times of strength and times of suffering are common to every person. My faith is central to either circumstance. It’s my sunscreen on life’s beach, my umbrella in life’s storm.

Note: Freud’s Last Session is a private production sponsored by the theatre department of Central College in Pella, Iowa. Performances will be October 24-27, 2018 at 7:30 p.m.

4 thoughts on “Faith, Strength, and Suffering”

  1. Later in this book we find Uzziah has the same issue as Rehoboam.

    But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction. 2 Chronicles 26:16

    Let him who stands take heed lest he fall.

  2. 7-8 When God saw that they were humbly repentant, the word of God came to Shemaiah: “Because they are humble, I’ll not destroy them—I’ll give them a break; I won’t use Shishak to express my wrath against Jerusalem. What I will do, though, is make them Shishak’s subjects—they’ll learn the difference between serving me and serving human kings.”

    God’s grace always amazes me. In this chapter, He spares Jerusalem from destruction, but condemns them to be of service to others….to learn a lesson. I recently had a conversation with my 17 yr old son about procrastination, lack of motivation and consequences. He admitted that he hasn’t learned many lessons in this regard because his choices and behavior haven’t really led to negative consequences. He happens to be right. In spite of his mother and I disciplining and removing privileges, none of them really bothered him (much to our frustration). While we want to pave the way for no pain for our children, one thing has become crystal clear to me. He needs to experience pain, on his own, in order to learn these important lessons. I hate that for him, yet I know its’ what is best. In a tiny, minuscule way, this must be how God feels about us….most of the time.

  3. I’m violating the 10th Commandment just a little bit. But I can’t decided if it’s because I want to see your performance or play that part. Break a leg!

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