Thoughts on suffering

Thoughts on suffering

Renee EllisonMar 24, '24

“…I fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church” (Colossians 1:24) and “…we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (Romans 8:17, NIV).

Exposition by John Calvin:  “Christ has suffered once in His own person, so He suffers daily in His members, and in this way those sufferings which the Father hath appointed for His body by His decree are filled...” [and consequentially, the mystical union is further effected/accomplished—i.e., the fellowship of His sufferings].

Further ponderings:

Why even Christ had to suffer is beyond our understanding.  Yes, He was procuring something via the suffering (His blood, for our redemption).  Could not a simple repentance of the creature to the Creator accomplish the same thing?  No.  We find in our nature that the fall was so cosmic, so totally morally destructive (twisting the heart beyond all measure) that we are unable to sanctify ourselves, try as we might.  Rather, in some sense all further human suffering may be procuring something that we cannot yet see.

And then we have this further verse for insight: “This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory…” (2 Corinthians 4:17).  All suffering certainly hastens relinquishment and a stripped will of one's own, an eventual suppleness in all things, in God's hand.  There is a hint that it goes beyond that to something we cannot see and apparently Christ wasn't permitted to tell us verbally.  Nonetheless, He did weigh in on telling us visually— via His own body in the trenches of vile circumstances—that it is terribly important as a sacrifice to the Father.  Why ever even kill an animal as a sacrifice?  The whole mess of conundrums involving supreme sacrifice is something far beyond our ability to comprehend here and now.   

Catholics teach an idea of offering all bodily suffering as a prayer in the body.  For example, a mother nursing her baby in the middle of the night, submitting herself to over-the-top duty,  robbing herself of sleep, responds by saying "I offer this to you, Lord, as a prayer in my body.  My body prays."  Is that not what goes on in fasting?  The body prays.  Or take a believer suffering unremitting pain on a death bed for what seems like way too long: "I offer these days and hours to you as a sacrifice, Lord...yet more until I arrive at Your feet...and shall never again be able to offer to You this sacrifice, in this way."  

We're taught by the martyrs to not let the mind go, anticipating the interminable length of torture, but to, instead, take it moment by moment, with the companionship of the Lord—keeping the soul within God's IV drip of dispensed grace per second, while partaking of the  fellowship of His sufferings.  The saint learns to suffer WITH the Lord.  Mother Teresa chose to wash the toilets; she chose, and reserved for herself, the worst job out of the list of daily duties, having discovered the understanding of "with-ness" with the Divine, and she was hunting for more understanding as she worked.  In my teens I had monthly cramps so bad I couldn’t function.  I gasped in sweat in pain, lying limp like a dishrag in bed, and the only thing that got me through it was envisioning hanging on the cross with my Savior.  I hung there with Him—as all His followers do.  “I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

Yes, we should scramble to get out of all suffering, run from it, fight it off, plan escape, etc., but when one is captured in it (such as Richard Wurmbrand’s 15 years in solitary confinement in Romania during the Cold War), the only way out is relinquishment and fellowship with God Himself minute by minute, growing an unbelievable endurance—unbelievable even to one's self.  God exposes the depth of our human psyche/ spirit/ experience far beyond what we know even of ourselves, by His taking us to places we would never have chosen to go.  A missionary woman even offered her savage rape to the Lord as her living sacrifice.  That happened only because she was amidst savages for the giving of the gospel; she went on working in dispensing the good news of salvation and healing for years afterwards. 

Suffering is inexplicable—a Christian perplexity.  No other religion explains suffering, either.  Christ is the only god who lived it.  Because He lived it in full view, in front of us, indicates that it is something fully understood only far into another dimension.  It will take entering eternity to see the full story.  Someday we shall know.  Children do not know (nor do they yet have the apparatus to understand) adult marital sexual union.  The information was never meant for now, for a four-year-old.  We must get to the place where we do not have to understand, but in faith turn a trusting face and a supple will to our God.  Wait.  "Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?" (Genesis 18:25, KJV).  Eventually it will be reversed and justly consummated, to the staggering surprise of all evil.

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