Exemplary suffering

Matt is raising amazingly thoughtful questions in the comments, and frankly, has made this blog worthwhile for me because of it. Let me reframe a little bit, thanks to Matt’s prodding.

Christians need people like the Pope and others to model suffering for us. It’s a sort of exemplary suffering that reminds us of what God chose to do in Jesus Christ. Christians need to be reminded that the embrace of obedience often involves the witness of martyrdom (in America, almost always figurative martyrdom, but more literal in the rest of the world.) Our American Christian models tend to reflect our American values of success and independence, not Jesus’ models of suffering and interdependence…the mutual sharing of relationship.

Our message to those who haven’t followed Christ probably doesn’t lead with “be willing to suffer.” No, our examples of exemplary suffering incarnate the good news of the gospel. Because the world suffers universally (we just hide it better in America, we’re not an exception to suffering) it is unbelievably good news that God chose to embrace our condition. God chose to be willing to share our experience of suffering. And even better news…in Christ’s embrace of and submission to unjust suffering even to death, God’s mark of vindication by resurrection shows that the universal human experience of suffering is not the end of the story. There is hope of rebirth, of healing, of redemption, and renewal.

I’m still, of course, using language and concepts that speak to a Jesus follower. I need to wrestle with how to communicate the above paragraph in plain old American English and metaphor. But the story of God’s involvement in the world is that while suffering is now the universal experience of humanity, it is not the beginning or the end of the story. Our way out is to follow the way of Jesus Christ: to embrace obedience that willingly suffers unjust evil, in the hope of a path to something other, something different than we have ever experienced.

And finally, to adapt C.S. Lewis: humanity’s universal desire to escape suffering, to label suffering as a “bad” thing, is one of the signs of God within us.

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One thought on “Exemplary suffering

  1. I’ve been following this discussion for the past week, and I have appreciated your thoughts on the central role of suffering in the Christian experience.In an earlier post, you said “… I’m moved by his choice to suffer in front of us”. I’ve been moved by, this too, but in different a direction.While the Pope has been willing to display his physical suffering before us, we should also note that he has not embraced all suffering. By remaining in his role in an obviously diminished state, he has been unwilling to suffer the loss of his authority, his power and his prestige.In my mind, being will to suffer the loss of his power would be even more Christ-like than the display of his physical suffering.

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