[The present article is from The Challenge, News of The Baptist Missionary Association Theological Seminary, Fall 2012]
"Your theology is not what you say it is when your circumstances are comfortable. Rather, it is what you demonstrate it to be when your circumstances seem unbearable: when you experience excruciating, interminable pain; when things seem unfair—when you realize your personal hopes and dreams will never be realized. Your thoughts, and indeed your actions in those moments, are your theology.
Your theology is what you think and do: when you get the diagnosis; when you get the call from the ER chaplain informing you that your loved one is there; when you realize that the threats against you are not merely perceived, but are actual; when you understand that you are trapped in a miserable, dead-end job because you have to support your family—those moments reveal to you, and to others, what your theology actually is.
My summer project for 2012 was to finish a Hebrew-based Ecclesiastes commentary I have worked on for several years. Having previously completed the translation and exegetical work, and incorporated relevant notes from my apologetics, counseling, and Hebrew language courses, the project looked set. To polish things off, I preached expositorily through the book on Sunday evenings for a year and then taught Exposition of Ecclesiastes for BMATS in the spring semester. In God's providence, however, instead of writing on Ecclesiastes over the summer, I ended up living Ecclesiastes.
On Monday, June 4, the day after preaching from John 9 and explaining physical evil with illustrations including automobile accidents, I was in a near fatal car crash. My injuries included a broken neck, fractured skull, two severely broken arms—one requiring skin grafts, etc. In an instant, instead of writing out my theology of suffering, I was given an opportunity to live out my theology.
The glory of Christ was manifested by His obedience to the suffering and ignominy bound up in His substitutionary death on the cross. Following His example, and that of His servants, the whole life of the Christian, but especially the minister, is to be a spectacle of the grace of God triumphing over evil in all its varied forms. In this way, as he obediently follows Christ in his own suffering, the Christian minister becomes a living object lesson for both the world and the church of what it looks like for the redeemed to transcend suffering animated by the Gospel, motivated by hope, and empowered by the Spirit.
With this understanding, the Christian’s suffering becomes the most dynamic avenue for him to magnify Christ and the hope of the Gospel. It is important to note here that the hope Scripture offers sees pain and suffering realistically. We are not taught to view suffering through rose colored glasses; pain, suffering, and evil are real and terrible consequences of the Fall. We are taught, however, that these experiences are neither accidental nor meaningless. God has given us many magnificent promises and guarantees that He will work all things together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purposes, and that He has an ultimately good plan for suffering and evil known at least to Him. As important as preaching and teaching are, there is something more important, more dynamic to which we must give attention—faithful living, especially in suffering. No sermon, lecture, or book will be as powerful, convincing or Christ-honoring as this."
--R. Brian Rickett, September, 2012