Suffering With Christ

St. Paul talks about suffering periodically in his letters, particularly in Romans and 2 Corinthians.  The way he talks about suffering is rather unique in the world today. 

Not that St. Paul is the only person to talk about suffering, for people talk about it all the time.  A daily scan of the news shows suffering of all kinds all over the world.  War, disease, hatred, greed, and all of the other sins you can name are inflicted on one person by another all the time.  We are no strangers to suffering in all it’s forms.  We have never really accepted suffering as a part of life, which is why suffering continues to be one of the most hotly debated topics among philosophers.

If this life is all we have, then suffering is truly something to be avoided.  This life is all about maximizing whatever pleasure and happiness we can, for that is all we have.  Anything that causes suffering then must be evil, for it goes against the only thing in life that has any value.

Fortunately, or unfortunately if you aren’t Christian, this life is not all there is.  That actually makes suffering more difficult to understand.  Happiness and pleasure are not the most important things in this life.  Faith and trust in Christ are the only things that lead to eternal life.  Suffering does not prevent eternal life, nor does it prevent faith.  There are even instances where suffering drives people to faith.  Can that mean suffering might be considered good?  It doesn’t seem possible.

First, we acknowledge that the cause of suffering is sin.  That means suffering can never truly be a good thing and that it has no place in God’s perfect creation.  But, we also see how God can use what is evil and turn it to good, as He does in the suffering and death of Christ.  This is where St. Paul steps in.  He gives our suffering theological significance.  Though it is evil, it at least now has meaning.  We find in our suffering that we are further joined to Christ’s life.  We become more like Him.

This gives further context to Lent.  The age-old tradition of giving something up for Lent often turns into a Pharisaical practice, “Look how serious I am about Lent!  I’m giving up (fill in the blank).”  That’s not the purpose however. 

Christ intentionally put Himself in harm’s way.  Not that it was self-inflicted or that He actively sought martyrdom.  Rather, He did what was necessary because something was at stake that was more important than His life.  His suffering shows His willingness to set aside His wants and desires for the good of others. His suffering was still evil, but it was used by God for our good.

Lent is our time to reflect on what Jesus suffered, but it is also a time to reflect on what it means to follow Him. As Jesus tells us in Luke 9, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” To follow Christ necessarily means to suffer, to let yourself be brought to nothing in order to save others. We consider what Jesus did for us and how He has called us to follow Him as disciples. We pray throughout the season that God would give us the strength to stay the course, particularly in those times when our petition, “Deliver us from evil,” becomes less generalized and more immediate and specific. We pray that God continues to remind us that the season will come to an end and suffering along with it. Our Easter will come just as Christ’s did.

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