Some people make it almost a life’s goal to avoid or remove any type of discomfort in their lives. They live by a dangerous misconception that happiness depends upon the absence of suffering and pain. Jesus’ gave us the supreme example of humility and also the supreme example of suffering. Following him is the key to joy and meaning.
Originally, man was created to enjoy life with God without suffering or pain. (Perhaps the deep-seated aversion to them and attempts to avoid them rise from this truth.) The Garden of Eden was the perfect place for man’s fellowship (relationship) with God. He had all he wanted or needed. Nothing lacked. Everything abounded in supply and variety. In the Garden, Adam and Eve had no worries, no cares, no difficulties. This was God’s eternal design.
The human decision to sin changed everything in his earthly condition. He was deprived of God’s presence, expelled from the Garden. He experienced death, both spiritual and physical. He came to know every type of physical, emotional, and relational pain. God had also made a decision: He would not remove man nor undo his sin or its consequences upon earth. Rather, he would use this experience for good — for present and eternal benefit.
So at the right time, several millennia later, actually, God sent his Son to become a man and to submit himself to the cruelest possible death. In so doing, God provided the highest possible benefit for man, by restoring to him that original fellowship. Suffering had become, in the profoundest sense, redemptive.
Suffering now, after the Messiah’s sacrifice, continues to be redemptive. His death continues to save and sanctify. Also, our own suffering in Christ complements (Paul said it completes) the Master’s, because the sovereign God has overpowered its negative effects and now causes it to produce what he determines, the salvation and sanctification of people distanced from himself.
Jesus is the only Lord and Savior. But we, through our own suffering, enter into, and participate in, his blessed work. In a secondary sense, we actually do save others. But if we recoil from suffering and pain, if we seek to avoid it, if we run from it as if it brought no one any benefit, we will frustrate the purpose of God, as much, or more, as those Pharisees and scribes of old who refused John’s immersion and thereby rejected God’s purpose for themselves, Luke 7.30.
Jesus, then, becomes our example in suffering and pain. It now has positive purpose. It now has the potential to produce eternal good. But we must accept the price of suffering in order to participate in his mission.
So many Christians and congregations close down the work of God in their lives because they have missed this connection. Nothing happens because we want our comfort, and we prefer to avoid distress, inconvenience, or hardship. We wear out our recliners and our remote controls and lose the sense that God brings to suffering. It again becomes meaningless, and despair recovers its victims.
Please note the first words of Peter as he urges us to follow the example of Christ in suffering: For to this you were called.
For to this you were called, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving an example for you to follow in his steps. He committed no sin nor was deceit found in his mouth. When he was maligned, he did not answer back; when he suffered, he threatened no retaliation, but committed himself to God who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we may cease from sinning and live for righteousness. By his wounds you were healed. For you were going astray like sheep but now you have turned back to the shepherd and guardian of your souls, 1 Peter 2.21-25.
What ought we to do, then? This question is as appropriate to Christians as to those outside of Christ. What must we do?
“… do good and suffer and so endure, [for] this finds favor with God” 1 Peter 2.20. In this action is redemption, for ourselves and for all those whom God desires to reach.