A Theology of Suffering
Throughout biblical history, from Joseph’s unjust imprisonment through the scorn thrown at the prophets to the disciple’s persecution and Paul’s constant beatings and mockery, suffering has been an important part of the life of a God-follower. “There is no growth without suffering,” say most of our deepest thinkers. And our experience plays this out as well.
I’ve been struck throughout my ministry that the least educated yet most powerful speakers at most gatherings are those who have come through some great suffering. Whether Middle Eastern pastors who have been jailed and tortured for their faith, or Rwandan woman who hid from the genocide while their family was slaughtered, or a youth worker preaching to gang members only to see his friends murdered again and again, our wisest minds are often such because of the suffering they have endured.
Yet we as a culture run from suffering in even the smallest amount. We flee restaurants that don’t get our orders Just Right. We accumulate wealth at huge relational cost so we will never have to go without for any reason. We seek out pleasure after pleasure hoping it will smother any feeling of suffering we might have. And in the midst of this comfort/pleasure/abundance culture we find that we simply cannot grow wiser. “I find that those who have not gone through suffering are mere babies in the faith, regardless of the age,” muses Richard Rohr. “And our elderly are seldom Elders because of it.”
While only the insane seek out suffering, the wise do not flee it but allow it to do it’s work in us. We are taught by it, grow through it, and reflect back on it when it passes. To “escape” suffering only leads to immaturity. Can we embrace it, endure it, and grow through it and from it, and become wise in the process?