POSTMILLENNIALISM AND SUFFERING

PMT 2015-106 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

Postmillennialism is distinguished from the pessimistic eschatologies of amillennialism, premillennialism, and dispensationalism as being optimistic. In the long run, mind you. Nevertheless, the Bible seems to develop a suffering-church motif.

Oftentimes the (historically) pessimistic eschatologies employ the suffering-church motif against the optimistic hope of postmillennialism. But the postmillennial system can handle the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and can take arms against the sea of troubles. Let us see how postmillennialism recognizes the fact of suffering and yet remains optimistic regarding the global prospects of the gospel.

Postmillennialists can affirm suffering-with-Christ as a basic element of our Christian experience even up to the end — if we carefully reflect on the biblical requirements of the suffering argument.

  1. We suffer as fallen creatures enduring physical weakness in this age

In Ro 8:17 Paul argues that if we are his children, then we are “heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.” He explains this suffering by teaching us that “the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of him who subjected it, in hope” and that “the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now” (8:20, 22).He Shall Have Dominion small


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Paul is explaining why believers, though “free from the law of sin and of death” (8:2), still suffer “the whole range of the weakness which characterize us in this life” (Murray, Romans, 1:311), “the whole gamut of suffering, including things such as illness, bereavement, hunger, financial reverses, and death itself” (Moo, Romans, 511). How can this be? Our glory awaits the future “redemption” of the body (8:23) by the Spirit of God (8:11). We are even too weak to pray as we ought, so the Spirit (who resurrects) intercedes for us (8:26–27).

Thus, Paul laments his being in a “mortal body” (Ro 6:12; 8:11), a body subject to corruption and decay (2Co 4:16); he declares that ultimately this “mortality” must put on “immortality” (1Co 15:53–57). We suffer in bodies that are mere “earthen vessels” (2Co 4:7), subject to “bodily illness” (Gal 4:13), “frequent infirmities” (1Ti 5:23), “sickness to the point of death” (Php 1:27). Elders in the church must assist in prayers for healing (Jas 5:17) because sickness is painful and limiting (Gal 4:13), “to the point of death” (Php 1:27) and may even cause death and its bereavement (Jn 11:33; Ac 9:36–37).

Fowler White urges us to understand that “the relationship between the church’s victory and suffering in Romans 8 reflects a theologically fundamental consideration” (White, “Agony, Irony, and Victory,” WTJ, 167). But when we properly analyze the suffering argument, postmillennialists are not confronted with an insurmountable challenge. For postmillennialism does not expect the elimination of mortality this side of the resurrection. And so these sufferings due to mortality will continue even at the height of the advance of the gospel. These should be borne as Christians, not as “the rest who have no hope” (1Th 4:13; cf. Eph 2:12; Jas 1:2–4; Tit 2:7).

  1. We suffer in a world with the principle of evil present

As regenerate, spiritually (semi-eschatological) resurrected believers, we abhor the sinful tendencies present in ourselves and in others. Paul is torn as he struggles to please God (Ro 7:21–23). He cries out in misery: “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” (Ro 7:24). As Bruce puts it: “Paul himself knows what it means to be torn this way and that by the law of his mind which approves the will of God, and the law of sin and death which pulls the other way. The Christian, in fact, lives in two worlds simultaneously, and so long as this is so he lives in a state of tension” (F. F. Bruce, Romans, 151).Perilous times


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Even at the height of the kingdom’s (postmillennial) advance in the world we will suffer temptation due to “the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of riches” (Mt 13:22). We will always struggle against the “sin which so easily entangles us” (Heb 12:1), the “the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life” (1Jn 2:16). Due to our suffering the temptation to sin within, each Christian must follow after Paul, declaring: “I buffet my body and make it my slave” (1Co 9:27; cp. Ro 8:13; Col 3:5).

 

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