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The Suffering Community

I do not propose to embark on a discourse on the meaning and purpose of suffering. The question “why?” and “why me?” arises every time we suffer, and can never be fully answered and understood in this life. Here and now we see only a dim shadow of the truth that will one day be revealed. However, we do see in the word of God some explanation and reason for suffering in the Church. The followers of Jesus suffer along with the rest of humanity through sickness and disease, what others do to us, what we do to ourselves, through so called natural disasters, through circumstances, or events over which we have no control. The suffering which is peculiar to Christians is a direct result of our faith and trust in our Lord Jesus Christ. As we live our lives in obedience to our Lord, we inevitably come into conflict with the world’s standards, and the powers of darkness. These are the very forces with which our Lord Himself came into conflict. He came into the world to overthrow and defeat them and and deliver us from their power. This He achieved for us through His death on the cross and His triumphant resurrection. As we identify ourselves with Him and enlist in His army, we identify with His suffering, but we also identify with His victory, and all the spiritual benefits that become ours through Him. The ‘Suffering Servant’ did not shrink back from the conflict. In total obedience to His Father, He faced it head on, and for our sakes took all the consequences, being obedient even to death on the cross.

It is easier and safer to identify ourselves with the world, and not stand out as being odd, or worse still, ‘religious’. From our baptism we are enlisted as faithful soldiers and servants of Christ, to fight under His banner against sin, the world, and the devil, until our life’s end. We make this real and confirm it for ourselves when we are old enough to do so. We can never remain neutral in this battle, but always on active service. This is what is meant by taking up our cross. It is not something which is laid upon us, but which we deliberately and actively do, and we take it up on a daily basis. Our inward self can urge us not to get involved; it is too risky. But Jesus says, “Whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake, will save it.” This is truth and the reality of our condition. As we obey Him, and take up our cross and follow Him, He promises to be with us, and will never allow us to endure more than we are able to bear. We are called to live by faith and not by sight, to trust in the Lord with all our heart, and not rely on our understanding. His promises cannot fail. He cannot deny Himself. Whatever we may be going through at this present time, we know that “In everything God works together for good to those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” - Romans 8:28

As we are willing to take up our cross daily, we may face opposition and persecution, even from within the Church. Some may say, “Why all this talk about evangelism. Why force our faith on those who do not want it?” Our Lord’s command to His followers was to “go and make disciples of all nations.” Spiritual forces of evil will resist this advance into their territory. We go into a suffering world with the message of life and reconciliation, a message of healing and forgiveness, a message of hope and love. That is the message Jesus brought, and that is what His body the Church must do. His reward was suffering and death, and we are called and privileged to share His suffering. But the promise is that if we die with Him, we shall also reign and live with Him. Let us commit ourselves afresh to Him in renewing our baptismal promises, denying ourselves, taking up our cross and following the way of our Saviour and Lord. “The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with that glory that is to come.” - Romans 8:18

Derek Burton


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