The other day I overheard a man speaking about suffering in the context of God. He basically said that he knows he is following God when he is suffering, and that any pain is worth it as long as he sees God’s face when he dies. “Gosh, what a depressing view of the faith,” I thought. It seems suffering, and that fire and brimstone theology, is at the forefront of many Christian’s minds. Many of these people may quote the scripture verse where Jesus says, “I come not to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34) They may speak of the suffering endured by Jesus and the Apostles for the sake of righteousness.
I don’t doubt that the Christians who say such things are devout and convicted in their faith, but for me, something seems terribly wrong with a theology that measures our faithfulness by the amount we suffer, as if the two are perfectly correlated.
Indeed, sometimes following the faith and believing in God means persecution. But for the most part, following God means receiving a peace and consolation like no other. It’s the peace that comes in patient trust and the comfort that comes in healing. Suffering is a normal part of life, not a result of a strong faith. Jesus, in the Bible, removed the suffering from the afflicted. He told people to come to him who are weary and burdened and he would give them rest. No place in the scriptures does it say that suffering is the assurance of a strong faith. Rather, faith in God is shown to relieve suffering.
When the woman with the haemorrhage touches Jesus in hope to receive his healing power he tells her that it was her faith that healed her. Her faith relieved her suffering. Faith means that the trials of life are eased a bit because we’re looking through a lens of hope. When I pray in the midst of suffering I find consolation in the knowledge that God is along side me. The theology of suffering that man had doesn’t seem to leave much room for a compassionate God who suffers with, and at times, removes suffering, removes burdens, and fills emptiness with hope and light.
Asceticism only does so much. God does not desire suffering for us. Nor does God make suffering a “requirement” for the faith. Suffering is part of life, but having faith in God means we can look beyond that, into God’s comforting embrace.
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Music by Kevin MacLeod