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More than Suffering

[Crosswalk, January 24, 2000] 

Q. My friend Mike was trying to explain Christian faith to me over dinner one night, and he said something I could understand. He said to look at the Son of God, unjustly strung up like a criminal. What could be more penetrating and instructive to the rest of us? Life will have terrible injustices, tragedies, incomprehensible stupid stuff. Nevertheless, believe in Him, live a moral life, follow the Ten Commandments, The Golden Rule, and do works of charity — that’s the goal of daily existence. What do you say to Mike’s analysis?


A. I think your friend Mike is on target, and that most Christians would agree‑‑but that its only *half* the story. Yes, we have the consolation of knowing in the midst of life’s incomprehensible cruelties that Jesus suffered in the same way, and God the Father suffered with his Son, so we are not alone. I remember standing at my grandmother’s hospital bed and wondering why she had to suffer this way, then looking up at the crucifix on the wall‑‑an image of even worse suffering.

But this is only half the story, because Christians believe that Jesus didn’ t only die, he went on to rise from the dead. The Crucifixion and other events of Good Friday are one thing, but the Resurrection, the events of Easter Sunday, reveal a whole new dimension to the story. When people began seeing the risen Lord it seems it was an overwhelming experience; it set people on fire with courage and love, with the desire to forgive others and bring them to this same joy. That’s why the whole story is called "the good news." If it ended with Jesus dying, it would be consoling news of a sort, but not fabulous, wonderful, life‑changing good news. It’s the Resurrection that changes everything.

Thus St Paul writes, "Death, where is thy sting? Grave, where is thy victory?" The book of Revelation pictures the scene at the end of time, with all the righteous dead resurrected and praising God, and it says God will "wipe away the tears from every eye" and there will be no more sorrow or mourning, but all joy.

There’s a story in Christian Orthodoxy about a woman who dedicated her son to the care of a particular historic saint. Soon after this the son died, and the woman was very angry. She kept thinking, "I gave my son to your care, and how could you let this happen?"

Then she had a dream. The saint was standing with her little boy, and he looked radiant and happy. The saint turned to the boy and said, "Your mother wants you to go back." And the boy buried his face in the saint’s robe and said, "Please don’t send me back! I’m happy here! This is the most wonderful place I’ve ever known!" After this dream the mother was at peace; she knew that her son was in joy and peace, and that some day she would be reunited with him.

So while its true that seeing Jesus’ sufferings helps us bear our own, there’s the added boost that we know all this suffering is temporary, and all will be made right some day, and then we will have joy that we cannot even imagine now. That’s good news.

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