I’ve been thinking lately about suffering and how it’s related to the Christian life. It seems to me that there is a great lack in the Christian world for a theology of suffering because there is such a propensity towards a theology of victory. I think it’s true that we have victory in Christ but the real question is “how” and “in what way”? Many think that victory in Christ is about how he will take away the difficult things in our lives. But that is not true. I don’t know of a Biblical passage that promises categorically to change the circumstances in our lives. The truth is that victory is achieved because of and through our suffering.

One of the biggest things I’m allergic to is suffering. I have seen in my life that I will do almost anything to avoid difficulty. But the question we have to ask ourselves is if this is right. According to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor who was martyred at the hands of the Nazis, in his book, Meditations on the Cross (John Knox Press, 1996), the Christian life is defined by its suffering. Since Jesus suffered, it is natural that his followers will suffer. When Peter rebuked Jesus in Mark 8 after he talked about his imminent suffering and death, Jesus said, “Get behind me Satan! You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (v. 33) These are strong words that Jesus said to someone he loved. Suffering is part and parcel of the Christian life, and let’s face it, the Christian life is diametrically opposed to what the culture believes, sees or thinks. Christianity talks about humility and service, about loving others because Christ loved us first. The non-Christian world talks about looking out for yourself first. The subtle deception here says, “If you’re OK, then, and only then, can you reach out and help others.” The problem is that you never feel like you’re OK and so your life becomes a constant pursuit to be OK. Christianity says that we put others first because Christ put us first and this is a call to suffering and sacrifice. To serve another says that I put their needs ahead of my own; that I put their wellbeing ahead of my own. But, incredibly and paradoxically, this kind of suffering brings joy. It is interesting that when I sacrifice myself by putting someone else first, I am sharing in the sufferings of Christ. And this brings joy, according to Bonhoeffer, simply because Christ promises to be in the suffering with us. When we suffer, he is there with us. His presence is with us through the Holy Spirit and he holds up our arms as it were; he carries the burden of the cross that we must bear. Suffering is not bad; it is good, because the prize is the presence of Jesus himself. And so, why do I try to avoid all suffering? Because it is very hard for me to believe that Jesus will walk with me. I live like an orphan and not like a child that is totally and completely loved. I have a hard time seeing his great love for me. With love, he gave his life for my rescue – he rescued me from being self-absorbed. Because of the love of Christ, I have the capacity to give myself for others. What an incredible paradox – freedom through suffering; joy through sacrifice; fulfillment through dying to yourself; loving because you were and are loved. C. S. Lewis says:

"To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to be sure of keeping your heart intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully around with hobbies and little luxuries, avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safely in the casket of your selfishness. And in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will not change, it will not be broken. It will become unbreakable, impenetrable and irredeemable. The only place outside of heaven where you can be perfectly safe from the dangers of love is hell." ("The Four Loves", Harvest Books, 1971)

How I need Jesus to work this in me every day.