Suffering in the Suburbs (Part 3)–Social Suffering
In my previous posts I discussed Christian suffering in the West and one type of suffering: emotional suffering. Now we consider another type of suffering that Christians will likely experience as they seek to faithfully live out a lived devoted to Christ: social suffering. Social suffering is experiencing pain from relational and social situations. Like emotional suffering, not everyone will suffer the same degree of social suffering. But I believe that all Christians must be willing to suffer socially if that is what God calls them to do.
A Christ follower living in a fallen world will most likely suffer some type of social pain. This is because the Christian faith is contrary to the impulses of the sinful culture at large. It is an offensive message. The world rejects its basic tenets: there is only one God, the God of Christianity; every person has offended God through their actions and stands guilty before God; Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection is our only hope to be right with God (we cannot earn a right standing with God); every person will be accountable to God one day and is called to turn away from their rebellion now. Because these basic beliefs are so offensive, it is easy for some to water down the message or keep quiet about it. But a Christ follower who is obedient to the Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20) will likely suffer socially for holding to these basic beliefs of Christianity.
This social suffering manifests itself in various ways. Sometimes it might be a shunning: perhaps you share the gospel with a co-worker and it gets awkward and now they refuse to talk with you. Or you might end up being left out: your social group decides to invite everyone but you to their outing because they don’t like your ‘religious’ beliefs. For some it may come about through more overt gossip or slander. For others it may mean getting bypassed for a promotion because of refusal to compromise. Social suffering differs depending on the context and what God in His providence decides to allow you to experience.
Now some Christians lack prudence and exasperate their own social suffering. This happens by overstepping particular social boundaries or by being overly confrontational in sharing the message of Christianity. These believers likely suffer more severely just out of their own lack of social wisdom. Yet, other Christians don’t experience social suffering at all because they are silent and cowardly about their faith—most of their friends or coworkers don’t even know they are a Christian. Perhaps what we need is to be winsome, loving, truthful, bold, and courageous in our witness and our life—something that is only possible through the Holy Spirit’s empowering. We shouldn’t avoid suffering socially for the gospel nor be purposefully offensive about it. Yet, even in doing this, I believe that the most prudent, socially wise believer will experience some type of social suffering, just because the gospel is offensive.
As we consider suffering socially in the suburbs, we should ask ourselves: Have I been compromising my Christian witness so that I might fit in better? Do I love the praise of man more than Christ? As we see own failures, let us repent of cowardice and be willing to suffer for the glory of God and the ultimate good of those around us.
In the next post, we’ll be looking at third type of suffering experienced by suburban Christians: financial suffering.