Suffering in Christ we always accept because it halts the world of sin and reverses its effects–it transfers all from a state of separation (sin, spiritual death) to union with God (love, eternal life).
In the moment of suffering, however, we do not have to know anything about this reversal. We do not know our role or how we fit into the greater plan. For this reason, we must endure the suffering with total trust in Christ: he will bring me to the clearing where this dark suffering shows its purpose. Otherwise we could not bear the opaqueness of the horizon, the wall against which our pain and struggle thrusts us. Yet if we can open our hearts to God’s grace, amidst this suffering, the wall turns into God’s light, which attracts us on to our new station in his plan.
In Christ there is more than promise, there is also the pledge that wholeness–of person and of humanity–will be accomplished, by the power of God’s grace, through death. Death is the ultimate symbol and event of our unknowing and powerlessness. But by faith we know this death is united with Jesus. Indeed we bear the dying body of Jesus in us with every step, so we also share in his raising. We carry our cross in following him, trusting that it is the very passage of death that will reveal the wholeness of our life. This resurrection faith necessarily views all temporal suffering in the light of future glory–a glory we prepare to share in by resituating our suffering in this mysterious light.
Provided we sin no more, our daily cross is our participation in Christ’s suffering, which is at every point a suffering of atonement. We witness this in our own lives when our suffering leads us to help and heal others, when it takes it outside of the normal course into the miraculous space of the Gospel encounter.
To bear the confusion of suffering–out of love–allows God to use our confused suffering for his atoning work. He fuses us to him, so long as our heart is discerning of and ready to act on God’s initiative when it comes. This means remaining outward-turned, even when our pain draws us in. The sign for this atoning work is centrally love of neighbor–reproof and aid, education, upbuilding, consolation, reconciliation–, the perfume that wafts from the foot of the Cross.
Whenever we are suffering and confused why, let us therefore entrust ourselves that much more fully to God; and let us open ourselves that much more to encounter and love others, out of obedience to him. Let us recognize in those moments that God is acting to alter the course of the fallen world, albeit in ways that our eyes cannot see. Let us have the courage to live forward into this faith, trusting that he is rerouting our lives through our suffering–that it is his hand guiding us to glory.
This is the new habit of suffering in Christ: to distribute and amplify his halt to sin, his reversal of its effects, and so, washed in the blood of the Lamb, share presently in the saving work of Christ’s Cross.
by Timothy Lavenz
August 18, 2022