Thursday, February 28, 2013

Redeeming Suffering


Suffering is part of human life.  Each of us will suffer at some point in our lives, and even when one of us experiences smooth sailing someone is undergoing some pain or sorrow, some loss or heartbreak.  Whether we like it or not, one of life’s challenges is learning what to do with suffering.  The suffering in our own lives and the suffering of the world around us.
Our culture offers a limited, two-fold strategy for suffering: avoid it whenever possible and relieve it however possible when it cannot be avoided.  In other words, our culture classifies suffering as bad.  Suffering seems to us almost an intrusion in life as usual.  So we look for ways to inoculate ourselves against it and to anesthetize ourselves to it.
We are right to avoid unnecessary suffering and to relieve it when we can.  But if this is the sum total of our approach to suffering, then suffering has the power to crush the meaning out of life.  From this perspective, suffering can only diminish life, and time spent in suffering is simply time lost.
Arshile Gorky's "Agony"

Jesus teaches us something very different.  He never says that suffering is good in and of itself.  And yet he teaches us that following him involves suffering.  He urges us to take up our cross and follow him.
Jesus redeems suffering.  He assumed all of our suffering and sorrow on the cross.  He took it upon himself.  Jesus passed through suffering and death--our suffering and death--and overcame them once and for all.  His loving sacrifice transformed suffering from a distortion of life into the soil from which new life springs.  Life beyond all suffering, all sorrow, and even death itself.
The cross does not teach us to pursue suffering.  Instead, walking the way of the cross means engaging suffering in a specific way.  
As followers of Jesus, we engage our own suffering and the suffering of others with a hope-inspired boldness.  
We can persevere through our own suffering with the assurance that Jesus is turning even our sharpest agony into the the birthing process of new life.  
Because we are one in Christ, we can no longer be indifferent to the suffering of others.  Compassion becomes our default setting, and we are no longer captive to the fear that our love for another will hurt us.  In Jesus Christ, suffering love becomes the way of the cross.
Jesus wants to make our joy complete.  When we follow him along the way of the cross, he redeems even our most grievous suffering.  In Jesus Christ, the tomb itself is not a final destination to be a avoided, but a passageway to new life.  Eternal life.  Life forever free of tears and heartache.  
When we follow Jesus, we begin to taste that life today.  Not in spite of suffering.  But even in the very midst of it.
When we follow Jesus, we begin to taste that life today.  Not in spite of suffering.  But even in the very midst of it.
This essay appeared in my weekly email "Thoughts from Bishop Jake."  You may subscribe to this email by contacting Bob Harwell, the Diocesan Communications Officer.

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