Suffering–by Rene Milner
I have been pondering the question of suffering lately.
In the question of comfort, the world would have us believe that we are dealing with a new and different era. We are currently battling an “Opioid Crisis” or an “Epidemic of Narcotics”. I would argue that currently we do not have an opioid epidemic any more than we have an Insulin epidemic. What we have now and have always had is a pandemic of suffering.
Suffering is the process of dealing with some sort of pain. Opiates work on both physical and psychological aspects of pain so well that we have turned to them almost exclusively with the most dangerous side effect, that to a large extent people quit asking the question of “Why do we have suffering”?
Simply put, we have suffering because we have free will. We can choose to do the will of the Father or not. That conflict causes pain and suffering. We think that pain is the result of external forces, but is it?
1Pe 4:1-2 Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.
What does it mean for us as Christians to “suffer in the flesh”? Could it be to have this mind in you that will suffer in the flesh and aim for the absence of sin? Is it to put this mind in you that you will suffer anything in the pursuit of sinlessness? That does not say you will try to be sinless of your own, but that you will pursue that mind which was in Christ to the extent that any inherent suffering from this pursuit is a part of His suffering. “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order 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 comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” Phil 3:8-11
Ceasing from sin then is what it says. If we take sin to be anything that we think, say, or do that is against the will of God then if we choose to follow Christ no matter what persecutions are happening then we will not be sinning. In each small action, each large thought, each entire life. This then tells me to use my will to follow Christ. Think about what His reason and purpose are and adhere to them. You will be persecuted. You will suffer. That’s ok. You will be sinless. (By His blood)
Think of it this way, if we have the same mind as Christ and deny our own desires as He did is that not “suffering in the flesh”?
Wow-Could it be that suffering in the flesh is actually just the suffering of being in the flesh. Having passions and desires that we deny. This is suffering. It is a command for us, “so as” to live for the rest of the time in the flesh. “So as” to live this way, no longer taking the non-suffering way and following it where you don’t have to deny passions and pleasures, where you are not ridiculed. Instead taking the way where you struggle against your own desires and say “not my will but thy will”.
What is the greatest picture of suffering in the Bible? I would argue the Garden of Gethsemane. After this we see the attempts made to inflict physical pain, but do we see a narrative of Jesus suffering or do we just place on Him what it would feel like to us? We don’t really read that Jesus felt so much pain and suffering, but we see Him with his face to the cross enduring whatever.
So this “suffering in the flesh” is not a onetime thing but an ongoing task whenever we are in the flesh. We can do this for all our lives. If we suffer in one area we cease from sinning in one area. If we submit fully we cease from sinning in all areas. It is an ideal perfected by Christ alone but aimed at by us. It is our goal. We strive in this way by fixing our eyes on Christ. When we do this we know what to do and we endure the “suffering” that comes with it. Internal and external. This applies equally to the man living in a time of little outward persecution (last half of the 20th century) and a time of extreme outward persecution (the first century). Were this not so, the people who resisted the more evil foisted on them would be more sinless and those who live simple quiet lives would be more sinful. Suffering is what we are in the flesh, something we share in being united to Christ. A constant conflict. A battle to deny our own will and joyfully submitting to God’s will in imitating Christ.