A Suffering Participation

This idea of being a parable of Jesus has been haunting me for the past week. What is that supposed to look like in my particular context? How can I be the visible description of the invisible Jesus in the face of job loss, a child’s overwhelming illness, and the death of a church? How can I be a parable of Jesus today, when life is as it is, and not as I wish it were?

At times like this I look to the words of Paul in Philippians:

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings,becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

There’s a key phrase in there that often gets overlooked: I want to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death. I’ve always thought that the way in which we participate in the sufferings of Jesus is through persecution. The suffering is inflicted upon us by an outside, human force that stands in opposition to the kingdom of God. While this is certainly a huge part of what it means to participate in the sufferings of Jesus, I’ve become convinced that it’s not the whole story. In the absence of persecution, we can sometimes take on the suffering of Jesus by becoming, as he was on the cross, Godforsaken.

It’s important to remember, here, that Jesus didn’t sin or do anything wrong that brought upon his Godforsakeness. That Godforsakeness was a part of the Father’s larger plan, and was soon followed by the resurrection, and an entirely new way of being Trinity. In the same way, we don’t necessarily do anything to bring about Godforsakeness in our lives; it can be (and I say “can be” because it is certainly possible that we are so stubborn in our sinfulness that God “gives us over to the desires of our hearts”) a part of the Father’s larger plan to create a whole new way of being human, that is, becoming like Jesus.

God has not forsaken you because you or he are unfaithful. On the contrary, God’s distance in the midst of our suffering is a part of his redemptive plan that always pushes toward resurrection – to new life arisen out of the ashes of death and decay. As Paul says in Romans 5:

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;perseverance, character; and character, hope.

God’s aim in all of this is to produce, in you, the power of the resurrection of Jesus and the hope of your own resurrection. Therefore, whatever suffering you are enduring now, know that God may feel distant, but he is not absent. You may be forsaken now, but you will not be forsaken then. Only persevere. Take courage, and be faithful. God is faithful even when it seems that he is faithless, and the stories of God’s faithfulness belong to those who persevere through their Godforsakeness and into their resurrection.