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Suffering

There is no life in this world with­out suf­fer­ing. The ces­sa­tion of suf­fer­ing comes only in the King­dom of God.

There are gen­er­al­ly three sources of suf­fer­ing in this world: suf­fer­ing from the per­se­cu­tion of oth­ers in body and soul, suf­fer­ing from sick­ness and dis­ease, and suf­fer­ing in spir­it because of the sins of the world. There are only two pos­si­ble ways to deal with such suf­fer­ings. Either one humbly accepts them and trans­forms them into the way of sal­va­tion for one­self and oth­ers; or one is defeat­ed by them with rebel­lion and rejec­tion, and so “curs­es God and dies” both phys­i­cal­ly and for eter­ni­ty in the ages to come. (cf. Job 2:9–10)

We have seen already that “all who desire to live a god­ly life in Christ Jesus will be per­se­cut­ed” (I Tim­o­thy 3:12); and that Chris­tians should “count it all joy” when they “meet var­i­ous tri­als” (James 1:2), “rejoic­ing that they were count­ed wor­thy to suf­fer dis­hon­or for the name.” (Acts 5:41)

We have also seen that those who suf­fer through sick­ness and dis­ease with every virtue of Christ will receive “suf­fi­cient grace” from God to be strong in the Lord in their bod­i­ly weak­ness, and so direct their suf­fer­ings “not unto death” but to the “glo­ry of God.” (cf 2 Corinthi­ans 12:7–10, John 11:4)

Since there­fore Christ has suf­fered in the flesh, arm your­selves with the same thought, for who­ev­er has suf­fered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of time in the flesh no longer by human pas­sions, but by the will of God. (I Peter 4:1–2)

Now I rejoice in my suf­fer­ings for your sake, and in my flesh I com­plete what is lack­ing in Christ’s afflic­tions for the sake of His body, that is the church… (Colos­sians 1:24)

So we do not lose heart. Though our out­er nature is wast­ing away, our inner nature is being renewed every day. For this slight momen­tary afflic­tion is prepar­ing for us an eter­nal weight of glo­ry beyond all com­par­i­son, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are tran­sient, but the things that are unseen are eter­nal.

For we know that if the earth­ly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a build­ing from God, a house not made with hands, eter­nal in the heav­ens. Here indeed we groan, and long to put on our heav­en­ly dwelling, so that by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we sigh with anx­i­ety; not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be fur­ther clothed, so that what is mor­tal may be swal­lowed up by life. He who has pre­pared us for this very thing is God, who has giv­en us the Spir­it as a guar­an­tee.

So we are always of good courage; we know that while we are at home in the body, we are away from the Lord… (2 Corinthi­ans 4:16–5:6)

The spir­i­tu­al per­son, when suf­fer­ing in the flesh, uses his afflic­tions to be set free from sin, and to be made “per­fect through suf­fer­ing” like Jesus Him­self. (Hebrews 2:10) He knows that as his “out­er nature is wast­ing away” he is being born into the King­dom of God if he suf­fers in and with Jesus the Lord.

In a very real sense the most griev­ous suf­fer­ing of all is not in the flesh but the spir­it. This is the suf­fer­ing which tor­ments the soul when, by the grace of God and in the light of Christ, the spir­i­tu­al per­son sees the utter futil­i­ty, ugli­ness and pet­ti­ness of sin which is destroy­ing men made in the image of God. Accord­ing to one great the­olo­gian of the Church this suf­fer­ing was the most griev­ous of all for the Lord Jesus Him­self. (cf. Met­ro­pol­i­tan Antho­ny Khrapovit­skii, 20th c., The Dog­ma of Redemp­tion)

Jesus knew the full­ness and per­fec­tion of the divine beau­ty of God; He knew His mer­cy and love, the glo­ry of par­adise, the good­ness of His cre­ation. Behold­ing all of this, giv­en to man as a gift, and behold­ing it scorned and reject­ed in His own per­son, was infi­nite­ly more painful and tor­tur­ing to the Lord than were any beat­ings and scourg­ing and being nailed to the cross. For the cross itself was the great scan­dal of man’s hatred and rejec­tion of the love and light and life of God as giv­en to the world in the per­son of Christ. Thus the agony and tor­ment of the Lord in His being killed on the cross was the divine agony, in body and soul, of man’s refusal of divine life. No greater agony than this can pos­si­bly exist, and no human mind can fath­om the infi­nite scope of its hor­ror and tragedy.

The spir­i­tu­al per­son, accord­ing to the mea­sure of grace giv­en by God, par­tic­i­pates spir­i­tu­al­ly in this agony of Christ. It is the great­est suf­fer­ing of the saints, infi­nite­ly more unbear­able than any exter­nal per­se­cu­tion or bod­i­ly dis­ease. It is the tor­ment of the soul over the utter fool­ish­ness of sin. It is the agony of love over those who are per­ish­ing. It was in such straight­ness of soul that the Apos­tle Paul could exclaim: “…I have great sor­row and anguish in my heart, for I wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kins­men by race.” (Romans 9:3)

It is with this same agony of love that Saint Isaac of Syr­ia could say about the saints, “if they were cast into fire ten times a day for the sake of their love for man, even that would seem to them to be too lit­tle.” (Mys­tic Trea­tis­es, Wensinck, ed.) This same Saint Isaac him­self was known to weep fer­vent tears of suf­fer­ing love for all men, the whole of cre­ation, and even the dev­il him­self.

Thus the ulti­mate form of all suf­fer­ing which leads to sal­va­tion is com­pas­sion­ate love for all that is per­ish­ing through the ridicu­lous fool­ish­ness of sin. Christ suf­fered from such love to the full and unlim­it­ed exten­sion of His divin­i­ty. And each per­son suf­fers it as well to the extent that he or she is dei­fied in Christ by the grace of the Spir­it.