Suffering: Love's Constant Companion

by Howard Glass

The Apostle Paul had much to say about sufferingand his perspective on it was radically different from the world's. In Philippians 3:10 we sense a man so enthralled with the glory of being Christ-like he hardly cares that he will have to suffer to reach his goal. Only a heart full of divine love could say: "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like Him in his death, and so somehow to attain to the resurrection from the dead."

Paul's hunger strongly implies an unseen dimension in suffering. The key word here is sharing. Who really desires suffering? But most of us can recall a time when we would have eagerly shared another's misery.

For example, when my son was a baby, he had an inner ear infection. If you've ever experienced a bundle of innocence screaming in desperate physical agony, you know how helpless I felt. I would gladly have shared any amount of his pain to give him relief.

Some types of suffering are common to us all. When a dear friend is standing beside a casket, we wish we could take a share of his or her grief upon ourselves. But when these feelings are sensed by the one in loss, somehow we do share it. This is of God. It is one of those rare moments when the reality of spiritual things becomes almost tangible.

We rage inwardly over the bloody oppression we read about or see on television and pray for God's intervention where disaster has struck. Yet the Bible has so many accounts of God ordaining suffering we hardly expect all such prayers to be answered.

The imagery of childbirth holds some insight. Paul yearned for the maturity of the Galatians and uses it to describe his desire for the spiritual growth of a church: "My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you" (Gal. 4:19).

Mothers, even after experiencing the incredible pain of delivery, give that suffering no thought when deciding about a larger family. They easily scorn hours of the most intense agony in light of its product. For them, love reduces an otherwise overwhelming torment to an acceptable price to pay. In a similar vein, Paul counted his suffering an acceptable cost for other's salvation and spiritual growth.

Some firefighters once told me, "The flames licking at your back almost feel good, if you are running out of a burning building and carrying a child in your arms." By becoming saviors, in a physical sense, their attitude toward suffering changed. They entered a place where selfishness and evil will never go. No wonder it felt good.

We can understand then, that acts of service, love and sacrificethe sort of things Christians are called to might change one's relationship to pain and fear. Jesus put Himself between us and hell. Because of the suffering He endured, we found freedom and life. I hope that knowledge made the suffering a little easier for Him.

Paul's hunger for a share of Christ's agony may have come from his enhanced vision, something he gained when he met Christ on the Damascus road. God showed him that he would have to suffer (Acts: 9:15-16). From that day on love for God and suffering for God's people defined Paul's lifethe one adding meaning to the other. 

Love always calls for suffering. It is the price we pay to enter into fellowship with Him who will one day banish all suffering. May we willing to pay it gladly!

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