The Role of Suffering
I once received a card from a clergy friend. On the cover it read:
Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches. (1 Corinthians 11:24-28)
When I opened the card it simply read: So that’s enough about me. How is it with you?
I could not stop laughing, but I am always aware that my laughter belies something important.
The interesting thing about Paul is that none of this is a deterrent from his mission. As a matter of fact, he sees the suffering he has experienced as fundamental for transformation. In the many things Paul suffered, he found himself poured out and given for nothing other than serving God through the power of Christ.
In his own suffering, he found solidarity with Christ … he found solidarity with all who had suffered.
Paul also discovered that the deepest spiritual transformation he could experience was through the pathway of suffering and brokenness. What he experienced empowered him in a unique way to go to the deepest places of spirituality. The Corinthian correspondence was late in his ministry, and his Letter to the Romans is considered to be his last. Romans also exhibits Paul’s deep spiritual maturity … where in the eighth chapter we hear that “there is nothing that will separate us from the love of God through Christ Jesus our Lord!”
His wisdom and insights don’t come from academic studies, and they do not come from a strong ego. They come from the place of brokenness and an authentic humility.
Paul doesn’t linger in that brokenness. My laughter at the card my friend sent was because it is my own tendency to wallow in the brokenness a bit too much. Paul, however, doesn’t make his story just about brokenness. He makes it about the power of the cross to transform and create community. His story is ultimately one that reflects the radical inclusive love of God.
So as we move toward the conclusion of this theme of brokenness, we will experience, with Jesus, that the darkest is yet to come … yet the darkest hour will precede the dawn. My prayer is that you will take all that you have suffered and bring it to the cross. It is there that our suffering will take on new meaning, and the darkness of death will itself begin to reveal the light of life.
God, may our brokenness and suffering somehow connect us more deeply to you and to one another. Amen.