Wednesday, April 1, 2015

This Thing Called Suffering...

What's it all about, anyway?  Oh, how I have begged and pleaded and struggled to get my mind around suffering in this world, especially these past few years as God has allowed my fair share. Not that I'm complaining about my personal suffering (much), because there's always someone who has suffered more. But I've complained plenty to God about my lack of understanding about it all.

I have an insatiable desire to know how God is only and always good and Holy, because that is the only kind of God deserving of our faithfulness. But reconciling the knowledge of good and evil to it all... it overwhelms me. Darn it all, Eve... why'd you have to take that bite? (no disrespect meant, by all means, 'cause I'd have probably done the same and even sooner...)


How's your Lent been going?  And your Holy Week?  I'm still very new to learning about liturgical living. This is my second ever official-awareness-of/attempt-to-observe the Lenten season.  This year, my most fervent prayer specific to Lent has been for God to help me understand suffering. Or, more specifically, how the suffering He allows contributes to His glory (or how it WILL in the future culmination of all things).  To help me understand how me accepting my "crosses" brings Him glory, and even furthers His Kingdom, and allows for the help of other souls--their provision, healing, and salvation.  Paul speaks of it. There are verses in the NT that get glossed over and ignored continually that have always bothered me. Now that I've been studying more of early church history, I see this teaching was common--the teaching to gladly accept our suffering and see it as good, and as only for God's glory and for the work of His Kingdom. But... I still have been unable to grasp it.

“On the Way of the Cross, you see, my children, only the first step is painful. Our greatest cross is the fear of crosses. . . . We have not the courage to carry our cross, and we are very much mistaken; for,whatever we do, the cross holds us tight — we cannot escape from it. What, then, have we to lose? Why not love our crosses and make use of them to take us to Heaven? But, on the contrary, most men turn their backs upon crosses, and fly before them. The more they run, the more the cross pursues them, the more it strikes and crushes them with burdens. . . . If you were wise, you would go to meet it like Saint Andrew, who said, when he saw the cross prepared for him and raised up into the air, “Hail O good cross! O admirable cross! O desirable cross! receive me into thine arms, withdraw me from among men, and restore me to my Master, who redeemed me through thee. “ — St John Vianney

And Paul states,

“In my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” (Col. 1:24)

Oh... how I hate suffering. And we're not even talking about my three-month stay in ICU on life support. I hate being cold. I hate my shower that has no water pressure. I hate my aching feet and wrists from rheumatoid arthritis. I hate having to get up with the baby if I am dead tired. I hate having to tell myself "no" to chocolate. I hate allergies, and snow, and mud, and mosquitos, and dusting and sweeping, and....
But, I have pleaded to understand. God, can I joyfully accept all these things, hand-in-hand with your work for our redemption?  I mean, if you think about it, why would we be joint heirs and be able to reign with Him without having any part of sharing in what it took to get there?

One thing that has marked my ENTIRE journey of faith is gaping holes in my understanding of the gospel, theology, and doctrine, and the lack of satisfactory explanations (or complete lack of) when my questions are asked.  For example... when pondering the crucifixion and the suffering of Christ:  How is it that His death was enough? Other people have suffered worse physical deaths, have they not?  People make a big deal out of how much Christ physically suffered for us, but there is a disconnect. There has to be more to the story. People before Christ, during Christ's time, and people now have physically suffered more torture, torment, and more painful physical deaths.  It wasn't the physical suffering that did the job, was it. There's more to the story. So yes, this person will tell you it was because His blood was pure, so that was what was enough. Yes, but then why the cross? Why the nails? Why the thorns?  Why the stripes? Why the pierced side?  There is more to this story of physical suffering--more reason, more meaning, more wisdom, and more understanding--and I have always wanted to know.  And I'm starting to get it. Christ's physical afflictions were partial to the redemption process and culmination of God's plan of redemption for the whole world. The fully human part of Jesus could only experience human suffering, which makes the human, physical suffering part of His death for us an "example."  And because of the curse on mankind sent forth from the beginning, there is a full providential cycle of human suffering that will happen (Noah's flood being an example).  The fully God part of Jesus, His sinless blood, the pure and innocent taking on the sacrifice of the guilty--that is the Holy sacramental act that saved us and reconciled us spiritually to God. But, there is still a physical, sin-filled world that is living out its life-cycle with all the ordained suffering that our all-Providential and Sovereign God has put together from beginning to end--ending in pure brightness, sinless, painless, hope, everlasting perfection and glory.

We're just not at the end yet.

“In my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” (Col. 1:24)

When I first got deathly sick a few years ago and faced dying, God sent me the author Fenelon for encouragement. Fenelon, like the Apostles themselves, understood completely the normalcy and continuation of human suffering, the need for it, and how it was necessary for the continued work and culmination of God's plan for mankind. He understood it so well, in fact, he failed to explain it. It was understood. I told you I've been going back to the beginning to find those things that have been lost--those things our early church fathers and mothers understood, because the disciples themselves understood them. I wanna know.

I just wanna know.

Oh... I won't get you lost any further in my  mind. But, this concept, of God allowing my suffering, for His glory, and for the furthering and completion of His Kingdom and His work.  I had to know.

So since the beginning of Lent, I have prayed for this. With tears. It is my heart to know.

And, He answered. Of course. With this beautiful story. 

So, if you need encouragement. If you just can't take one more day of headaches, or emotional struggles, or poverty, or fatigue, or stress,  or hurt, or pain, or your stubbed toe, or the loss of your spouse, or your child, or your crippling injury, or your bee sting, or the icy wind...or any of it. Go read it. It may encourage you one tiny bit.


  1. That story is heart wrenching. Thank you for sharing this and your own story, that still never ceases to amaze me.

    I think the thing that sticks with me the most, is the knowing that we are heirs with Christ and therefore, we must know his suffering, so we can know how precious life is. How can we appreciate all the blessings God gives, if we have never tasted sorrow. It's only through seeing the death of my loved ones, that I learned to literally thank God every single day, just for giving me breath.

    Faith is the cornerstone. It's the foundation.

    1. You are right that we must know His suffering, to some extent. Like C.S. Lewis so eloquently explained, we cannot understand joy if we do not know what pain is, we could not know what good is unless we knew evil. Also, part of my prayer I neglected to mention above is asking if it's possible for me to understand the agony over sin that God feels--that agony that caused Jesus to sweat blood? I am certainly not agonized to that extent over my own sins or anyone else's. Can we know that kind of suffering, too? Or is our earthly suffering just an example of what spiritual agony the Holy Spirit suffers due to our sins?

      And I hate to disagree with you, but I would further your last statement. Jesus is the cornerstone. The stone that the builders rejected! Faith is the gift to believe Jesus is that cornerstone. You can't have one without the other.