What happened in microcosm in medicine, happened overall to our culture. We remain convinced that suffering is always a bad thing and that the goal of this life and the purpose of God is to relieve such suffering. We are sure that there is no good thing that could come of suffering and there is no purpose in suffering. It has become our greatest evil. We are ready to end the lives of the aged or afflicted because we have judged their lives too painful to continue and we wait with great anticipation their own consent that they have become unlivable. Such is our quest to end suffering that we have decided that death is better than suffering. It is the same at the other end of life. No child should be brought into this world unless they are wanted, can expect to have a decent and full life, and are not hindered by physical or mental defect. We have decided that such suffering is so great that to abort the life before birth is the noblest act of a compassionate humanity. Suffering is worse than life and death is merciful. How odd for a Christian society to come to the conclusion that there is no redeeming purpose in suffering when it is suffering that redeemed us!
Even more that this, Christians know that suffering is the ultimate mark of love -- what we are willing to suffer for others is the most profound statement of love. This we have learned from our Lord. And this is the suffering that love endures -- husband for wife and wife for husband and parent for child and, eventually, child for parent. Greater love has no one than to lay down his life for his friend. This is Jesus' love for us and it is the mark of our love for Him and for those around us. Christ has not only redeemed us through suffering but has redeemed suffering for us that we may participate in His suffering. Oh, what glorious gift. Or is it? Have we as Christians refused suffering while still grasping hold of what His suffering won?
If you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. (1 Peter 3:14) Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. (Colossians 1:24) I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death... (Philippians 3:10) Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance perseverance, character; and character, hope... (Romans 5:3-4) Rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:13) In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:6-7)
Jesus warns us of what is to come if we stand with Him and walk in His ways. Persecution, pain, and even death are the consequences of being Christ's in a world that is His enemy. His call to take up our cross and follow Him is a call not to avoid suffering but to embrace it. He insists that we will suffer many things for the sake of His name but not to give up. Christ has not simply redeemed us by suffering but redeemed us for suffering -- not randomly or without purpose but for the purpose of His glory and to show forth who we are to the world. Yet too many Christians continue to take the pills of sentiment and self-indulgence -- demanding that God free them from any suffering or pain and holding God responsible for even the suffering and pain we bring upon ourselves. What kind of shallow Gospel is this? How dare we call ourselves Christians if we make suffering the test of our devotion! How foolish we are to insist that God would not want us to suffer, not even to deny our wants and desires for any cause, or to presume that God's job is to relieve us of such suffering! The reality is that pain is the condition of this world and a life without pain is either an illusion or an addiction which consumes us. We do not make our peace with suffering but rejoice in it when we suffer for righteousness' sake. It is our glory in this world to suffer at least briefly before our tears are dried up and our hearts occupied with everlasting joy.
All of this became even more clear when in a Bible study we discussed the sufferings of our Lord in graphic terms. It is hard to hear because we don't want to believe that anyone should have to suffer so -- not sinners for their sin and not a Savior who would redeem us from that sin! But such is the measure of His great love for us that we were redeemed by suffering to suffer with Him as His own in a world that knows Him not. Start preaching this and watch how many Christians will leave!