Relational brokenness. Horrifying news from the doctor. Vocational rejection. Violence. Coercive government. Sexual exploitation. Chronic pain. Unsatisfied, unexplained craving. The humility of acknowledged sin. The death sentence of suppressed truth. To be human is to suffer.
Diverse biblical authors consistently claim the rescue of humankind was brought about through the suffering of One. Jesus Christ reveals himself to the human mind and soul through suffering in the above fallen storyline that none of us can escape. By unexpected prescription, deliverance comes through the reality of suffering, not apart from it. Christ himself achieved his mission through suffering even though everything existed through him and for him from eternity past.
Questions arise in honest minds: Does the newspaper of our existence support the idea that God views suffering the same way we do…something to be avoided? Should this affect the way we think about suffering? Do people who endure suffering conquer their circumstances or succumb to weakness? The Bible hones in deliberately and diagnostically on the human condition. What follows are study notes pressed against the storm surge of experience and horizon.
Christ’s suffering was an example for us and we should share in his suffering patiently. He is the inspiration and forerunner of all who follow him. We should, in fact, arm our mind’s attitude to receive suffering like he did. His call for us to suffer is something we should embrace with purpose and intentionality. If we suffer for doing good it is a gracious thing in God’s eyes. We can turn away from suffering that merely gets what it deserves, and instead keep entrusting our path to a trustworthy God, come what may. This doesn’t destroy hope but establishes it as he meets our needs. Sharing in Christ’s suffering will produce joy because it means we share in his glory. It is a union and an identity.
Suffering then is promised and shouldn’t surprise us. It is planned by God and intended to test and purify. We must suffer, but should rejoice in suffering because it produces the highly desirable attributes of endurance, character, and hope. The acquired skill of endurance requires an ability to be sober-minded. Such sobriety comes in realizing suffering well can only be accomplished by the power of God. He gives grace at the point and time of need, with no advances, to further his glory and our joy.
By biblical definition then, suffering well isn’t passive. It requires patience and prayer. We should be steadfast and faithful in suffering, enduring even when unjust. We shouldn’t resort to threatening others while suffering, but rather entrust the future to the God himself. Those in Christ should realize their siblings are suffering throughout the world. We must remember his promises to us and the fact that, even in this age, we are not alone.
God will justly repay evil individuals for afflicting his children. Suffering is temporary for children of God and he himself will come to our rescue. He will restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish us. When we suffer for God’s sake it is precious to him. God will even call us in various ways to suffer on behalf of others for their good as well. We should share, uncoerced, in the suffering of others, and enter their circumstance with the attitude of a focused soldier going to battle. Enduring in this manner proves we are his, and he will work all things together for our good.
Those who follow Christ in suffering live in the truth of vincit qui patitur: he who endures, conquers. Those who don’t end with Thoreau’s desperation, the vanity of Ecclesiastes, and Shakespeare.
Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,