A Quick Look at Suffering.
I’m sure that many people will cringe at the mention of suffering. I’m also sure that most of us would agree that suffering is a bad thing. However, I would like to take a moment to get a biblical idea of suffering. Due to the scope of the topic, this is not going to be comprehensive (obviously), but it is something that I have been pondering for a while now.
My thoughts on this subject are all orbiting around the Apostolic prayer found in Ephesians 3:14-21—“For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height– to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” So what does this have to do with suffering? Let’s talk…
In many a social circle, suffering is viewed as being perversely noble somehow. Case in point, the whole conflict in Gaza between Israel and Hamas. People are beginning to champion the cause of the Palestinians at an astonishing rate… why? Because the Palestinians are suffering under the border closings and the various forms of destruction leveled on the infrastructure. Since the Palestinians are suffering, that must mean that Israel is a big bully picking on the small, yet noble, right? Right?! Wrong. While suffering in and of itself is part of the fall and will be wiped away in the resurrection, suffering does have a positive power in this day and age, especially if it is for a cause.
To see how this all ties together, we need to look at the earlier portion of Chapter 3. In verse 13, Paul tells the church to not be disheartened at Paul’s trials and suffering for them because those same trials and tribulations are the glory of the Ephesus church. Get a load of that… Paul’s suffering for the church is their glory. The same is true of all Christianity, really. God’s suffering at the cross is the glory of the human race. God esteemed us as so valuable to Him that He sent His Son to die (and nearly tear the Trinity apart in the process)… that is a heck of a statement of our value. It is my contention that this fact is the mystery of God. Namely, the eternal community of Love placed such value on broken and fallen humanity that they would drastically interrupt their own contentment and ecstasy to bring humanity to themselves.
So now, we find in Paul’s build up to this prayer in verses 8 and 9 this remarkable statement that God has given “To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ;” In this fellowship of the mystery, we find the context of the Apostolic prayer that we may be strengthened with might in the inner man. But Paul ends this prayer with a very intriguing statement, “to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” What does this say to me? Our suffering for God is His glory. If that is the case, then suffering is actually among the greatest gifts we can give to God. Why? Because there will be a time that we won’t suffer anymore. When all sorrow, pain, and death have been taken away, we can’t suffer for the name of God either.
Paul’s wounds for the church was their glory. Our wounds for God are His. The disturbing part? Paul prayed that God would have glory in the church. So… anybody still think that God wouldn’t dare make the church go through the tribulation because “He doesn’t want us to suffer”?