The longer I study Scripture, the more I realize how little I know about God and about why life is as it is.Suffering is an example. Why does God permit His children to suffer? Is suffering purgative? Punitive? Or is it simply part of the package of ‘being alive’?
What does it mean when Scripture tell us Jesus was made “perfect” by the things He suffered (Hebrews 2:10)? What does it mean when it tells us, “Although He was a Son, [Jesus] learned obedience from the things which He suffered.” (Hebrews 5:8)?As I pondered those particular passages, I remembered Jesus’ words in John 12:24: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit;” and St. Paul’s in Philippians, “[Jesus was] found in appearance as a man, [and] humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:8).
Then the apostle’s words to the Footnotes: Colossians filtered into my thoughts: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. . . . For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf and for those who are at Laodicea . . . that their hearts may be encouraged . . .” (Colossians 1:24 and 2:1-2).
One by one Scripture filtered into my memory. Gethsemane came next. Clearly, Jesus did not want to die. He did not want to go through with the plan. He agonized so intensely that drops of blood dripped from his skin – the medical condition is called hematohidrosis. Yet, despite his great dread, He said to His Father, “Not My will, Father, but Yours be done.”As I put all the pieces together, I wondered if the question of Christian suffering – indeed, even human suffering – is not intricately related to God’s benevolent and beneficent purpose – whether or not I understand that purpose. Maybe, as God’s Son “learned obedience” by the things He suffered, I too – His child born of faith in Christ – I too have opportunity to learn obedience by the things I suffer. When we “fill up what is lacking in Christ’s suffering,” when we endure our struggle well, God uses our experience to encourage others who observe our faith in a faithful Father. When we “fall to the earth and die,” when we endure our pain, fear, loss and sorrow in a “Thy-will-be-done” obedience, God produces something good in the lives of others.
And also in ours.
I don’t think I understand any of that beyond the superficial, but one of the early Church Fathers, Tertullian (died c. 220 A.D.) seemed to have caught a deeper glimpse of its truth when he wrote, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”I do not like to suffer, but I like to think it is easier to endure if I trust that God is using my suffering for good purpose.
And maybe then it will be easier for me to say, “Not my will, but Thine be done.”