Why Must We Suffer? 

Today, one of the readings at Mass was from a letter written by the Apostle Peter to a church going through a lot of suffering. And Peter, as do the other writers in the Bible, tries to bring some consolation to them. Some of them had lost their homes. They’re friends had been imprisoned, or even lost their lives. And they wondered what it all meant. It’s so easy to feel lost when you are going through circumstances you have no control over. They wash over you like a tidal wave pulling you under and keeping you there. 

A lot of times, the disciples would comfort these people with promises of Heaven. Paul spoke at one point at least about how our “light afflictions” in this life were nothing compared to what we would one day receive. (II Cor. 4:17-18) But Peter takes a completely different train of thought – one that I’ve honestly never noticed before:

“If you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God.” 

Go through what you are going through with resolve, with courage, with patience, even though you’ve done nothing wrong. God is doing something powerful and amazing in you when you do. So far, so good. The Lord is with us in our suffering. But the next phrase isn’t so comforting.

“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps.” (I Peter 2:20B-21)

Called to suffer. Thanks, Peter. Yes, maybe you are called to be a mother or father. Maybe you are called to be a preacher or a teacher. The word “vocation” has it’s roots in this idea: a calling, something your life is meant for. Just don’t forget, says Peter, that in addition to being called to all these other things, you are also called to suffer. 

It’s not exactly encouraging, right? “Jesus suffered. So will you.” It echoes Christ’s own words to the disciples in the upper room: if the world treats Jesus like shit, you can pretty well assume they are going to treat you that way, too. After all, no one’s above their master. (John 15:20)

But the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. Peter isn’t going to tell them what they want to hear: that all of this will end if they send more money to his ministry, or that if they pray the right way, everything will be fine. He knows better than that, and he loves this church too much to feed them faery tales about how everyone will be fine in the end. He knows what they have to go through. He’s been there himself. 

And I wonder if, in those words, he’s telling them the one thing that get’s him through it all – what carries him when his eyes can’t squint tight enough to see the hope of Heaven waiting for him at the end of his dark tunnel. Sometimes the consolation that “this too shall pass” isn’t enough. Does what we go through accomplish anything? Is this just a burden we could do without but for no good reason have to carry? Just because? Have we done something wrong? Have we failed somehow? Is God punishing us? 

No, Peter says, He is not. It was Christ’s calling to suffer, die, and then to rise again to glory. And so it is also your calling to suffer, to die, and to then rise to glory with Him. You are His body on earth. 

Often, what we need in our walk with God is that simple encouragement. My wife gave a talk to our high school group about her years struggling with depression and thoughts of suicide. And in the Q and A time afterward, she fielded anonymous questions. One of the questioners said he or she was having depressing feelings and asked what so many of us ask, “Is this normal?” I remember wondering the same thing when I was going through difficult times in my own life. Am I doing something wrong? Am I out of the ordinary? Am I weird? My wife said, essentially, “Yes and no.” No, suffering isn’t normal. We weren’t meant for suffering. This isn’t God’s end game. We’re not meant to hang on our cross forever. And yes, it’s completely normal. If God Himself couldn’t escape the pain of life, neither will you. But that also means that since God Himself carried that weight, you carrying your weight means something so valuable. There’s nothing wrong with you. This is what life is in a fallen world, but it won’t be forever.

The storm will come no matter what. Pain is part of the program. But if we offer that suffering up to God, it becomes transfigured. When we bear pain with patience, even though we don’t deserve it, even if we didn’t ask for it, we shine with the same sort of brilliance Jesus did. It means something. It accomplishes something. And we may not know entirely what that “something” is, but if Christ’s suffering and singular death meant the salvation of the world, surely ours, in Him, will mean something, too. 
(Pic: Toscanini/Shutterstock.com)

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