Some interesting concepts. While it has genuinely never occurred to me that suffering could result in any reward (I will have to give that one some more thought), suffering can give rise to certain character traits, in particular that of compassion. I think suffering is a resolute teacher of despair – and this gives an understanding of the true meaning of hope.
‘…suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.’
Romans 5:3b-5 (NRSVA)
We must be careful though, because I have heard the notion of suffering as a ‘positive’ thing used as an excuse by some Christians towards others who have suffered, e.g. ‘you must forgive’ or ‘if you had more faith you would be healed’, etc. Grace rarely works with the rapidity of the fairy godmother’s wand – often its lessons, of necessity, take time – and it’s certainly no good used as an excuse to not care about the one who is suffering.
Compassion is what motivates the ‘sheep’ in Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats. There’s no judgement involved, just willingness to be there, walking alongside whatever pain the person is experiencing. Jesus doesn’t say ‘get the prisoner out of prison’ or ‘chastise them for ending up in prison’, He talks instead of ‘visiting’ them. Equally, and I say this from the point of view of someone who has been through trauma and tragedy and is currently still experiencing ill health, I beg of people to not allow your compassion to make of me (or anyone) an object. I (we) am not an object of your pity, I (we) am a human being. Jesus never made people feel ‘different’; He just got on with loving them.
‘…a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that [Jesus] was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment… when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” …turning towards the woman, [Jesus] said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” … he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”‘
Luke 7:37-50 (NRSVA)
This is the gift of compassion that Christ exemplified throughout his life! He ‘became’ the same as the sinners, or the sick, or the weak. He walked alongside them, recognising in each his or her humanity, and also in each his or her dignity. It is this recognition of our dignity which makes the Gospel so radical, so remarkable! Loving Jesus isn’t a safe, solid, predictable thing to do. Following His way turns the world on its head. Everything you think you know gets turned upside down. He tells us ‘pick up your cross and follow me’. Carrying one’s cross is never easy. But it changes everything.
My favourite ‘compassion’ story:
‘…there was a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years*. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.”** Immediately her haemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?'” He looked all round to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling***, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
Mark 5:25-34 (NRSVA)
* She was forced to exist as an outcast, even from her own family.
** She was forbidden from touching, as she was considered ‘unclean’ and anything she touched would also be made ‘unclean’.
***She had just performed a forbidden act – no wonder she was terrified!
This story always makes me so glad, so thankful. Thank you so much for your original post, Irvin, writing this has made my day 🙂
The brother said to the old man, ’So, man does not advance towards any reward without bodily affliction?’ The old man said to him, ‘Truly it is written: “Looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross.” (Hebrews 12:2) David also said: “I will not give sleep to my eyes, nor slumber to my eyelids,” until I find a place for the Lord.’ (Psalm 13:2-4)
— Abba Cronius of the Desert
This saying deals with the concept of suffering as an integral part of the Christian walk. Suffering as a precursor to reward is a most difficult and controversial concept. There are Christians that believe that without self-imposed suffering there is no reward. The main thrust of the monk’s words are that scripture leads us to believe that suffering and perseverance are an inbuilt part of our…
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