March 17

Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible

Reading schedule

Matthew 24:1-14; Romans 8:18-39; Psalm 67; Numbers 27-29

Our view of suffering and how we deal with it plays a major role in many ethical decisions. Many ethically controversial practices are justified by some because they relieve suffering. For some people, eliminating suffering is of primary importance. Today’s passage from Romans 8 holds up another view. It provides a way of tolerating suffering by looking forward to a better time. As Christians, we groan in our suffering, just as the whole creation groans. We don’t pretend that things are not hard, or claim that pain is not real. This world is not the way it was supposed to be.

But we also have a hope in a future when our bodies will no longer suffer as they do now. Because of that, we endure patiently the suffering we currently experience. We do not have to take things into our own hands every time we suffer. We don’t need to accept ethically questionable practices just because they might relieve some suffering. We do not need to eliminate the sufferer, just because we suffer.

Saint Patrick was a man who applied this passage in his life. Most know about him from March 17 being his feast day, but we know a lot more about him from a book he wrote around 450 AD and that is available here. As a teenager he was kidnapped and brought to Ireland as a slave. Left alone on the mountains to shepherd sheep, he became a man of prayer. He endured many hardships then, during his escape, and when he later returned to Ireland as a missionary. Throughout these times, God was his comfort. On one occasion he experienced the Holy Spirit helping him in prayer, and recalled Romans 8:26 saying, “The Spirit comes to help our inadequacy at prayer. For when we cannot choose words in order to pray properly, the Spirit himself expresses our plea with great emotion that cannot be put into words.”

Patrick suffered physically at the hands of the pagan Irish, and in other ways at the hands of Christians who betrayed him and attacked his work in Ireland. Two things kept him going. One was his intimate relationship with God, what he called “the great and beneficial gift of knowing and loving God.” The other was his calling from God to go to Ireland so that through him “many people were born again in God.” These were “a people newly come to belief whom the Lord took from the very ends of the earth.” He saw himself fulfilling what was promised in Psalm 67.

What helped him endure his suffering was his hope that he would be with Christ and thus “have gained both my soul and my body.” In keeping with Romans 8, he believed that all Christians “will undoubtedly rise … in the glory of Christ Jesus our Redeemer, as sons of the living God, joint heirs with Christ and made in his image.” What we must bear in our suffering varies. But Romans 8 promises that Christ will be with us to work for the good of those who love him.

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