Suffering and the Cross

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God… and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. -Romans 8: 14,17

It is a common idea that God blesses and protects the people who please God. The idea is that if we live our lives exactly the way God expects us to, we’ll prosper. If we don’t, well, that has its consequences, too. It’s a popular idea. It’s also wrong.

For one thing, it’s totally manipulative. Either we’re manipulating God by going to church, helping others, and reading our Bibles in order to get a raise at work, or else God is carefully doling out rewards based on how many divine brownie points we’ve accumulated. Even more importantly:

It’s just not Biblical. The Bible doesn’t describe suffering as punishment or lack of God’s faithfulness. Instead, the Bible shows us that God is with the ones who suffer. Jesus Christ, himself truly human and truly God, suffers a lot. Even from birth, he’s treated with disdain and hostility. Attempts are made on his life. His family and friends reject him. Doesn’t exactly sound like a prosperous, easy life.

Instead, Jesus faces his suffering head on, not because he delights in suffering or because he thinks the Father sent it to test him, but because he knows that only a life shaped by suffering, ultimately the suffering of the cross, leads to the glory of everlasting life. Jesus Christ knew what we needed him to do: not to show us the way to live but to suffer with us so that we could receive glory with him.

In short, suffering isn’t a punishment. Instead, we can see that through whatever suffering or trouble we might face, we are becoming more like Jesus Christ. Our lives, too, are shaped by the cross.

To put it another way, Martin Luther preached, “If you have affliction and suffering, say: I have myself not chosen and prepared this cross; it is because of the Word of God that I am suffering and that I have and teach Christ. So let it be in God’s name. I will let him take care of it and fight it out who long ago foretold that I should have this suffering and promised me his divine and gracious help.” (“Sermon on Cross and Suffering”)

God gives meaning to suffering and endurance to make it through simply because we are chosen as God’s children, given the inheritance of everlasting life that belongs to Jesus. Since glorious everlasting life is the inheritance of Jesus Christ, it is given equally to us who are adopted as children of the Heavenly Father and siblings of Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit who leads us, together one God now and always.

Holy Spirit, I thank you for leading me through both joy and suffering, trusting that through suffering I am shaped by the cross of Jesus Christ, my brother, until the day when I am brought safely home to the glory of my heavenly Father. Amen.

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