The transition from suffering to hope is possible when God is in our lives and when God’s love is in our hearts. An excellent example of this is the forgiveness and grace shown by the Amish to the family of the man who killed several Amish girls in a schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, PA in 2006.
Speaker: Hija Yu
Main Bible Passage: Romans 5:1-5
Let the words of my mouth and meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you, Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer
Do you sometimes find that when you read the same Bible passage you’ve read before that different words and verses stand out at different times? What stood out to me in today’s reading was the phrase, “boasting in sufferings” which was how it is translated in the New Revised Standard Version. In the English Standard Version of the Bible, this phrase is translated as
“rejoice in suffering.” Another translates it as “glory in suffering.” And the Bible scholar Archibold Thomas Robertson states that the translation as “glory” or “exult” in suffering is more accurate.
So can anyone boast in suffering, rejoice in suffering, glory in suffering, or exult in suffering? Every day we are bombarded with the images of people suffering—because of COVID, because of war, because of random killings. In these circumstances, can we imagine anyone who could boast, rejoice, glory, or exult in suffering?
So what made the Apostle Paul write those words about suffering?
According to notes from the translation, the phrase “We rejoice in our sufferings,” can be translated as “Let us rejoice in our sufferings.”
To me, the meaning changes when it is “Let us.” If we use the translation that starts with “We rejoice,” my understanding is that we are already rejoicing. If the translation is “Let us rejoice,” then Paul is urging Christians in Rome to rejoice, not saying that they are already rejoicing. Paul was trying to say that the sufferings he and they are going through is worth every bit of
it. To Paul, the answer was the first verse we heard this morning: Justified by faith. Therefore, he felt peace with God through Jesus Christ, and he wanted the Christians in Rome to experience that same peace with God. In a way, he was saying, “Imitate me.” “Like me, rejoice in suffering.”
When I read about Paul’s life before he met Jesus, I see a great similarity between Paul and Martin Luther, the leader of the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s. To fear of God’s punishment for his sins, Martin Luther believed that he needed to repent and ask for God’s forgiveness, so he prayed several hours a day. It is hard to imagine someone doing that. But that was before Martin Luther realized that God did not use a measuring stick or look into his life with a microscope every day. Paul also suffered from his belief that he was not measuring up to God’s standard of how a righteous man should live. That is, until he encountered the risen Jesus.
Although all or most of us here probably already know about often referred as Paul’s “conversion story” in the Book of Acts, I want to go over it again.
After Jesus’ resurrection, there was a growing schism within Jewish religion because the number of Jews who believed that Jesus was the messiah they had been waiting for was increasing. This group was called the followers of The Way. To stop the schism, believing that followers of The Way was committing heresy, the established Jewish religious leaders who had the power, decide to persecute them. Paul, called Saul at that time, sided with these religious leaders, giving his full support. Acts 9, verses 1 and 2, describes what was going on.
“Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belong to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.”
Along the way, as Saul was approaching Damascus, a totally unexpected thing happened to him, and his life turned upside down. I will read from Acts 9:3–9.
“Now as he (Saul) was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.”
This event is followed by Jesus appearing to another man named Ananias in a vision and saying,
“Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” (Acts 9:11–12)
Contrary to Saul, Ananias was not surprised to see the risen Jesus. Not only that, Ananias objected to what Jesus was asking him to do because he had heard about what Saul was doing to Jesus’ followers in Jerusalem. To this objection, Jesus told Ananias,
“Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” (Acts 9:15–16).
I will repeat the last sentence. Jesus said, “I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” Saul was destined to suffer for the sake of Jesus’ name.
Saul was stoned, flogged, and put in prison. Yet, Saul now called Paul felt peace even in suffering because he knew why he was suffering and he knew that this life on earth was not the end; that after this life, there is a far better life which is coming.
Before we leave the story of Ananias, have you ever wondered why Jesus appeared to Ananias? Surely, Jesus could have easily appeared to Saul again and opened his eyes. Yet, he chose to let Ananias go and open Saul’s eyes. Was it because Jesus wanted the two to meet? Was it to show Saul that others can also perform miracles? Was it to show that the two who thought of themselves as enemies were not really so? That they worship the same God and
could therefore become even better workers of God?
Imagine ourselves in Ananias’ shoes or in Saul’s. How would we have responded to hearing directly from Jesus? Could we refuse Jesus’ call to change if we’d had that kind of experience? Why did Jesus choose Saul? My guess is that Saul was chosen because he was the type of person who would give all to what he believed. Jesus knew that Saul wanted more than
anything else to serve God with his utmost.
To Saul, before he met Jesus, God was like a parent whom he could never please. He felt no peace because he believed that he did not measure up to God’s standards. The truly saving grace for both Paul and Martin Luther was their persistent desire to do better each day and seek forgiveness of God for their sins despite their belief that their utmost was not good enough for
In sum, fear ruled their lives until they both came to understand God’s grace in Jesus Christ. They came to believe that God’s love was freely given to them despite their sins. From that point on, what they were doing was not to get approval from God, but their free response to the grace that they freely received.
To make any kind of major change in our lives requires a strong motivating reason. Otherwise, why would we change? It makes a difference when we have a need and purpose to change. If we suffer for a good reason, we can endure it much better. But suffering is totally different when we have no choice and no power to stop it.
I have been a fan of the TV show 60 Minutes since high school. Last Sunday, it aired the story about indigenous children in Canada who were taken away from their parents so that they could be educated in boarding schools run by Europeans who settled in Canada. In these boarding schools, their hair was cut off, they were given European style clothes, and instead of using their given names, a number was assigned to each, and they were called by these numbers. They were also physically and sexually abused. 60 minutes interviewed former students who are still living, who are now about my age. The worst part of the story, to me, was that these Europeans who ran the school were supposed to be devout Christians who gave their lives to God—they were nuns and priests. I wondered how they did this? What made them do what they did?
When I mentioned this story to my son, he responded with a simple answer, “Because they had power.” His answer made me think about my own conclusion at one point in my life. I came to believe that one sure way to test a human being is give them money and power and see what they do with them.
When these former indigenous students were remembering their days in these boarding schools, it was obvious that the pain and anger were still there and they were still suffering. One woman stated that the abuse, in a way, still goes on. Because the abused tend to abuse others. She talked about how she has not been a good mother to her own children. The amazing part was that, despite all this, she was chanting a song or prayer about mother Mary now in her own native language. I didn’t understand the words, but I understood that it was a form of wailing for her— letting her pain come out.
Recently, I read a quote by Rainer Maria Rilke, an Austrian poet and novelist. He wrote, “Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us.” Madeleine L’Engle, writer, who quoted Rilke agreed with him and wrote, “I know that when I am most monstrous, I am most in need of love.” She goes on to write, “I am not lovable
when I am enraged, although it is when I most need love.”
When Shane Clairborne was here for the Beating Guns workshop and preached on April 24th, he mentioned the killing of Amish school children in Pennsylvania and the Amish people’s response to it—going to the killer’s family and forgiving them. Even going to the burial of the man who killed their children.
I found two articles on this shooting, the one published in the New York Times a day after shooting on Oct 3, 2006 and one in the Washington Post a day before the 10–year anniversary of the shooting, Oct. 1, 2016.
According to these articles, the shooter came to the one–room Amish schoolhouse on Oct. 2, 2006 and first ordered the boys and adults to leave and demanded that the girls line up facing the blackboard. He killed five girls and injured others, and killed himself in the end. He had no criminal record or history of psychiatric illness. But he left a note at his home—where he lived
with his wife and their three children saying he was distraught about a slight that had occurred more than 20 years ago. The police would not describe the incident that had upset him.
The ten–year anniversary article was based on an interview with the shooter’s mother, Terri
Roberts. The article started with these words:
A single word in black cursive font hangs above a large double–pane window in Terri Roberts’s sun room. It says “Forgiven.” The word—and the room itself, a gift built by her Amish neighbors just months after the unimaginable occurred—is a daily reminder of all that she’s lost and all that she’s gained these past 10 years.
What was lost was her son and those young girl’s lives, but what was gained were her Amish neighbors. The girls who were killed were ages between 6 and 13. The Washington Post article stated that those injured were all fully recovered, except Rosanna King who is now 16 years old, who “sits immobile in her wheelchair, unable to speak or feed herself.”
The shooter’s mother, Terri Roberts, developed bonds with Rosanna. At one point, she asked Rosanna’s mother if she might help care for Rosanna. In the intervening years, Terri Roberts spent nearly every Thursday evening at the Rosanna’s family’s farm, bathing, reading and attending to Rosanna until her bedtime. After the first couple of visits, Teri Roberts said, she
would cry uncontrollably the entire drive home, overwhelmed by the reality that this little girl was severely handicapped because of her son.
The article goes on to say that Terri Roberts caring for Rosanna is not lost on Rosanna’s father. There’s never an evening that Terri Roberts is visiting to care for his daughter that he doesn’t think of what her son did, but he said it never changes the goodwill he feels toward Teri Roberts.
For Rosanna’s father, the article states, “forgiveness has not come easy. Some parents have mourned the death of their daughters. Others have seen their daughters fully heal. His daughter survived, but he also lost her. Every day, he fights back his anger. Every day, he has to forgive again.”
“Every day, he has to forgive again,” made more sense to me because whenever I heard someone say that they forgave right away after such an incident, it was hard for me to understand.
The Washington Post article also interviewed Steven Nolt, a professor of Amish studies at Elizabethtown College. He said: For most people, forgiveness and acceptance come at the end of a long emotional process. But the Amish forgive first and then every day work through the emotions of it. He called this “decisional forgiveness” and he said this opened a space for Terri
Roberts (the mother of the shooter) to offer her friendship, which normally in their situation would be uncomfortable.
Decisional forgiveness. Working at it every day. That made more sense to me. And, these words made me think about the indigenous woman who was still wailing and chanting. What if she chanted “I forgive you,” every day. Would she be healed?
With regard to suffering, Paul went on to say that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. That is, this transition—from suffering to hope is possible—when God is in our lives and when God’s love is in our hearts.