Monday, June 18, 2012
The Crux of Suffering
And then today, I began to read a book called A Place for Weakness, Preparing yourself for Suffering. Now neither of these may appeal to your sensibilities or have a place on your "to read" list...and that, my friends is exactly my point. Who among us, especially in these days where the richest and most beautiful are considered to be the ones most "blessed by God," would desire to consider the topic of suffering or of the persecution of past saints and often, their martyrdom? We, in our American culture and those also in other wealthy countries, treasure fun, laughter, "toys," the latest gadgets and shun the ideas of sickness and death. These things make us uncomfortable, not only in experience but in philosophy. We don't even want to think of them.
When is the last time you went to a funeral of someone other than a close friend or family member? Probably not lately. The idea of death makes us so uncomfortable that we do not think about it or surround ourselves with it unless absolutely forced to do so.
Those who suffer are often (sometimes secretly) considered by others to be cursed. There is the unspoken (hopefully unspoken) assumption of some sin which has caused their distress. There are the condemning suspicions of a lack of faith. In other words, "If a person is suffering; then there is something wrong." Suffering is viewed as an anomaly -- something that simply should not be . And to a degree, that is true. Our sense of appallment comes from the creation when man was surrounded by a perfect environment, one that did not include human death or suffering....It was how God intended it to be...however, there came a serpentine whisper, a mouthful of fruit and the "plan was spoiled." WAS IT???
But sympathy was not enough for God. He also desired to be empathetic as well. He longed to identify with mankind so that he could comfort us in our pain....but BIGGER THAN THAT: God's suffering is the ANSWER ; the SOLUTION to our pain and to the death that awaits each of us. The cross once and for all eliminated death--the kind of death that is forever--from man's necessary experience. Will our bodies die? Yes. Will they be remade and perfected? Yes. Will this be the case for everyone who reads this article? I would love to say "yes" to that as well, but the fact remains ,just as the Bible says, "To (some) the cross is foolishness." In other words, you ain't buyin' it. And that is sad, but a fact.
But I do not want to be swayed from my point.
Jesus asked his disciples, when they sought worldly renown and honor, "Are you able to drink the cup that I drink?" Foolishly they answered, "Yes, we will." And Jesus told them they didn't know what they were agreeing to do. But we all, in this world, must to some degree or another, share in the cup of suffering. And we will all one day drink the cup of death. This is not an aberration or a flaw in the story God is working out on this earth. It is not a mistake. The road to life is one of suffering. (notice I said the road to life is one of suffering. Not "the road of life is one of suffering".) In order to gain life, we must do so by means of the cross. And this does not only mean the normal sufferings of the human condition. It means sometimes, as John of the Cross discovered, poverty, pain , and brutal death.
What is to be our response to this suffering? Well, our response should be paradoxical. On one hand we are to mourn it. It is after all, not the perfect condition God built into mankind to desire. And to go through pain and death, whether our own or those of loved ones, well, it hurts. And God doesn't wish us to deny our humanity and to pretend that it doesn't. In fact, (here comes that empathy), Jesus knows intimately what pain feels like. He knew loneliness. He knew mourning and loss. He knew the treachery of friends. And he is here with us --near to us-- in our pain.
However, there is the flip side of our response. We are to accept pain...not only our own but the pain of others.....as part of the road that we must walk. The Calvary Road, if you will. Our pain teaches us to identify with Jesus, just as his pain helped him to identify with us. He identified with our human nature...and the cross allows us to share in his divine nature. Do not berate others for their suffering. Do not avoid them. If their friend or family member dies, accompany them to the funeral; share in their loss. This is the true fellowship of the saints. It is NOT gathering for a pot luck dinner after church....It is to bear each other's burdens. And to place our own wishes, our own comforts, squarely on the cross.