“I [God] will show him [Saul] how much he must suffer for my name” (Acts 9:16)
“In the secular view, suffering is never seen as a meaningful part of life but only as an interruption.” – Tim Keller
I think the verse above is remarkable because it forces those of us who are followers of Jesus to confront the issue of suffering. In fact, it can unmask the Christianised demi-god of a suffering-free life that we’ve been holding onto. The narrative that runs through our heads goes something like this: “God loves me. As a result, he won’t let me suffer. So I need to learn how to trust him because if I trust him he won’t let me suffer.” Yet here, at Saul’s conversion – discipleship and suffering are being woven together into one beautiful/complex life of devotion.
How can God be good and yet clearly be choosing to weave suffering into the life of this new follower of him? From Tim Keller again: “While other world views lead us to sit in the midst of life’s joys, foreseeing the coming sorrows, Christianity empowers its people to sit in the midst of this world’s sorrows, tasting the coming joy.” This is the key … whilst earth remains your home, sufferings will always be unbearable. However, when we recognise that we’re only ever pilgrims passing through this life (Phil 3:2; 1 Peter 2:11; Heb 13:14), and Christ is our ultimate joy (Phil 1:21; Matt 13:44-46), we can live this suffering saturated life and yet simultaneously be filled with inexpressible joy (1 Pet 1:8; Ps 16:11).
Forgive me when I’ve reached for the Christianised demi-god of a suffering-free life, rather than the ultimate joy of Christ and the wonderful knowledge that this is not my home, but rather, heaven is! Help me to truly and authentically live in and amongst the pain and suffering but to do it as a pilgrim and joy seeker in Christ alone. Amen