On The Existence of Suffering Amongst God’s People

Seven Maccabean Martyrs

Seven Maccabean Martyrs

Now I beseech those that read this book, that they be not discouraged for these calamities, but that they judge those punishments not to be for destruction, but for a chastening of our nation. For it is a token of his great goodness, when wicked doers are not suffered any long time, but forthwith punished. For not as with other nations, whom the Lord patiently forbeareth to punish, till they be come to the fulness of their sins, so dealeth he with us, lest that, being come to the height of sin, afterwards he should take vengeance of us. And therefore he never withdraweth his mercy from us: and though he punish with adversity, yet doth he never forsake his people. But let this that we have spoken be for a warning unto us. (2 Macc 6:12-17)

In nearly every case, the word “Holy” is used of God, of God’s law, and of the Sacred Scriptures. However, in Paul’s writings we begin to see the idea of God’s people becoming Holy through their connection with Christ. In Paul’s letter to the Romans he builds upon Christ’s metaphor of the vine and the branches: “For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches.” (Ro 11:16) He indicates that holiness is both the normative state and the goal of the Christian life: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” (Ro 12:1) Paul tells us the point of his crucifixion was to present us to God as holy. (Col 1:22) Writing to the Corinthians, Paul first states that the “temple of God is holy”, and then that we are the “temple of the Holy Ghost”. (1 Cor 3:17; 6:19) Paul describes the church as a holy temple, holy and without blemish. (Eph 2:21; 5:27) In his moral and ethical prescriptions that typically end the writings of Paul, he describes holiness as the goal of the Christian life. God wants us to be a holy people (Lev 11:45; 1 Pe 1:16).

In the second book of Maccabees we read that suffering comes into the life of God’s people not as punishment, but as a corrective tool. Suffering is presented as a sign of God’s mercy, in that he doesn’t leaves us to our sins, but guides us away from them. The point of our present sufferings is for us to avoid the judgment of God.

The apostle Peter writes how it is better to “suffer for well doing, than for evil doing.” (1 Pe 3:17) He then describes “the longsuffering of God”, how “God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.” (1 Pe 3:20) In this passage the sufferings of the few are nothing when compared against the judgment of the world, a theme Peter appears to have taken from 2 Maccabees.

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