Yesterday, in reflecting on the tragedy at Newtown, I wrote of the God who suffers, the God who is well acquainted with our sorrow through the life and death of Jesus. We must remember that our God is neither distant nor unfeeling.
There are myriad implications of worshiping a God who has experienced all that we do. Among these, however, today I’m thinking that the church, too, is called to suffer as Jesus had.
I take it as a general rule that the church throughout the ages has always had Jesus to stand as our model. The people of God have always been meant to reflect the image of their God, a call which is no less true this side of the resurrection. The body of Christ, ought to actually look like, well, the body of Christ.
Paul drops this idea to the church at Philippi, writing, “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” (Phi 3:10-11, NIV).
I don’t know about you, but I start nodding my head around “power of the resurrection.” That nodding seems to cease somewhere around “sharing in his sufferings” and then turns to full on shaking at “becoming like him in his death.” Alas, we can’t get past it. If Paul was to attain to the resurrection, he felt compelled to spend himself in the manner Jesus had. Paul had to proclaim the ascension of a new King, even if that led to his own death, which it did, by all accounts.
There is a longer passage from Paul’s writings, from his letter to the Romans, which better articulates the effect that the suffering of the faithful might accomplish on the earth.
Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation – but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory (Rom 8:12-17, NIV).
We are desperate for the Spirit of sonship, are we not? We rejoice in the ability to converse with the Father. But it is this Spirit that should introduce us, as children of God, as brothers and sisters of Christ, to suffering. Do an experiment. Look to see where else “Abba, Father” appears in the gospels. Did you find it? That’s right: Mark 14:36. Jesus is in the agony of Gethsemane, about to be arrested, taken to trial and crucified. It is this Spirit that we share with Christ, the Spirit that shares in the world’s grief as it groans under the yoke of evil.
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God (Rom 8:18-21, NIV).
We enter into suffering, not just alongside our fellow humanity, but with the actual creation itself. We suffer along with the birds of the sky and fish of the sea, with the rocks, hills, floods and fields. But is that next to the promise of our glorified selves, our redeemed and resurrected selves, filled with the Spirit of God to finally govern the earth in righteous faithfulness to the Creator?
The church is called to suffer as the Creator had, as our Savior had. We are called to suffer because we are called to resemble our God. But we are also called to suffer alongside the rest of the hurting creation in order that we might have a role in redeeming the lot.
What should the church be doing these days in the aftermath of the death of innocents in Newtown? We grieve. We mourn. And we sacrifice by choice on behalf of those who didn’t get to choose whether to suffer. In this, we reflect our God and we lay ground work for redemption.