The age old dictum, ‘no cross, no crown’ is known to probably everyone round the globe. There cannot be glory unless travelled through the rough path of suffering. There hasn’t been any one in the human history till date who has treaded through a bed of roses and has attained greatness. Suffering is an essential stair in the ascent to greatness. The greatest of all victories in the human history has come as fruits of sacrificing precious lives and enduring tremendous suffering. No war has been won sitting in the comforts of the palace of a king. The crown of the king gets its glitter from the bloodshed on the battle field. One cannot think of glory without going through sufferings.
A similar dictum to the above said one, in the Christian circle is ‘No Easter without Good Friday’. The joy of Easter is the fruit of the pain of Good Friday. Any greatness has a sweetness added to it only when it has been achieved through suffering. The Christian understanding of suffering has its roots in the sufferings of Jesus as the fulfillment of all the prophecies of the Old Testament. Jesus underwent the sufferings as planned by his heavenly Father. [Mt. 26:36- 46] Jesus knew the meaning of the suffering that he was about to endure. He knew for sure that undergoing the proposed suffering is the only means to get the human kind freed from the bondage of sin, from the clutches of Satan. He said ‘yes’ to the will of his Father and entered into his passion.
Suffering: moments of blessings rather than abandonment
It’s quite natural that we curse the moments of sufferings in our lives. It is very difficult to understand it as the blessing from the Lord, while it’s really easy to understand it as the wrath of God. We have people in the Old Testament as well as in the New Testament who saw sufferings as moments of curse from the Lord, as the wrath of the Lord. The wife and friends of Job accused him of being against the Lord and thus he had to undergo sufferings. In fact, they were not able to recognize the constant presence of Yahweh with Job even in the moments of agony. Job realized it and was able to see the positive side of the troubles he had in his life. He endured the pain and losses in his life with love for Yahweh. Yahweh accompanied him all through his pain and sickness.
While reading through the lines of the Sacred Scriptures in the light of the Holy Spirit, one would realize that everyone who underwent sufferings or pains in their lives did so in the presence of God. No one is seen as abandoned by God in the moments of troubles. Sufferings are given to the people so that they may feel the protection of the Lord always, they may feel the company of the Lord at every moment of their lives. God never abandons one who is in trouble. In other words, the people in pain are the ones who are privileged to experience God closely in their lives. Moments of pain and struggles are the moments when God is ever closer to us.
Christian understanding of suffering is in line with the Old Testament understanding of Jesus as the suffering servant of Yahweh. Jesus, the only begotten son of God was destined to be that servant who would suffer for the entire humanity and die for them. He did so in the fulfillment of time. His sufferings were acceptable in the eyes of God and therefore, it made the salvation of the humanity a reality. Therefore, suffering is not something cursed and not to be loved and accepted rather, something that needs to be loved and accepted and endured with joy. Then it has meaning and fulfillment in life.
Suffering after the model of Christ!
Jesus suffered and died on the cross. The suffering of Jesus is considered as salvific. It became salvific because he suffered and died not for his personal interests but for the salvation of the world. He gained nothing for himself other than the human souls that were perishing. Every time when one suffers for the good of the other, the benefits of suffering become double. The one for whom suffering is undertaken is blessed by the Lord and the one who undergoes the sufferings is blessed tremendously. This is the propelling factor in Christian understanding that helps one to undergo sufferings with joy in his/her life.
Christ suffered and died for the entire humanity. Therefore, his sufferings bore fruits in the form of the salvation that the mankind enjoys. The way Jesus suffered encourages us, his followers, to undergo the sufferings of our life with lot of love and joy. He wants us to suffer for others like he did so that through our sufferings others may be saved. Meaningful suffering is one that is endured for others with joy and readiness. If suffered with grumbling and complaining, not only will it be useless but also harmful for the person.
Let us face the life positively; looking at the pains and struggles that come up in life as occasions that would help us to make the life of the other better and be blessed by our own generosity. Generous suffering would lead us to have a blessed life. Let us take the sufferings of our life as a means to attain salvation for ourselves and our dear and near ones. Let us promise to the risen Lord that we would make no short cuts to reach glory rather endure suffering and attain glory.
Fr Rajesh P