Hope in suffering

Like the chambers of a heart, the four MWC commissions serve the global community of Anabaptist-related churches, in the areas of deacons, faith and life, peace, mission. Commissions prepare materials for consideration by the General Council, give guidance and propose resources to member churches, and facilitate MWC-related networks or fellowships working together on matters of common interest and focus. In the following, one of the commissions shares a message from their ministry focus.

Suffering is a world-wide reality. It affects all people sooner or later. Yet, from the very beginning of time, people have tried to find credible answers to this suffering.

It is consoling to find that the Bible is not distanced from human suffering but confronts human suffering head on. (E.g., in the books of Job, Lamentations, and in Romans 8:18–28).

In Romans 8:18–28, we see a fellowship of groaning and hope emerge from the futility and suffering experienced by all people in futility and in suffering.

1. Fellowship in futility and suffering

All human beings share the common fate of fallenness, as mentioned in Genesis 3. The apostle Paul says that the whole creation is subjected to “futility” (Romans 8:20). This futility is experienced by living beings and non-living things alike.

Ultimately, all living beings, including humans, perish. Paul compares the corruption and destruction of this futility in the creation with “birth pangs” (Romans 8:22). And, like birth pangs, this corruption and destruction keeps increasing in frequency and intensity.

We see this happening in nature – earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, floods, and droughts – and also in human intolerant behaviour and erosion of civility, human dignity and biblical ethics.

But believers can take comfort that God takes responsibility for this futility and reveals a resolve to do away with the fate of the fall.

2. Fellowship in groaning

The creation (v. 22), the believers (v. 23), and the Holy Spirit (v. 26) are groaning because of creation’s subjection to futility.

The personification of creation as groaning reveals the fact that the Creator God is concerned about what he has made. And as part of that concern, the Creator God makes his children see the sufferings and the futilities in the world, especially in the lives of fellow believers, as their own sufferings.

Believers not only feel sorry for the ones suffering, but they share the affiliations of their fellow believers (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:26). That is how we enter into the fellowship of groaning together with our fellow human beings.

But, more than us, it is God who suffers in the sufferings of his people. The Holy Spirit groans on behalf of God’s people (v. 26).

It is comforting for believers to know that when they suffer, they are not alone. Brothers and sisters in Christ around the world are with them, experiencing their sufferings, feeling concern for their wellbeing.

3. Fellowship in hope

Paul mentions four facts that are comforting and hope-filled amid suffering:

  1. (v. 21). The futility of creation has a purpose: the realisation of the glorious liberty of the children of God. When this purpose is realised, God will deliver creation itself from its bondage.
  2. (v. 23). We fellowship in the sufferings and pains of creation. But God has a plan for believers to fully experience godly adoption as sons and daughters of God in Jesus Christ. This is our glorious hope.
  3. (v. 26). We are not alone. Even if we are physically alone, the Holy Spirit is with us. Jesus, ‘Emmanuel,’ is God with us. The Holy Spirit makes intercession for us, praying according to the will of God.
  4. (v. 28). The corruptions, futility, sufferings and pains in this world are for the benefit of the believers. (“Nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” v. 39). That is, nothing can damage our status as the children of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.

These comforting facts strengthen our hope in our God. This hope is common to us and hence we fellowship in hope also.

Mennonite World Conference (MWC) is a part of this fellowship in futility of pain and sufferings, in groaning, and in hope and therefore the members of Deacons Commission of MWC visit especially those churches that experience suffering. If God is for us, present in the form of fellow believers and of the Holy Spirit, who can be against us? (v. 31).

Therefore we can shout, “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (v. 37).

Elisabeth Kunjam is a member of the Mennonite Brethren church in India. She served on the Deacons Commission (2015–2018). This article is inspired by her participation in the Deacons visit to flood-affected Mennonite Brethren churches in Peru in 2017.