As I reflect on my thoughts in reading this book about a "Christian" approach to pain and suffering, I'm struck by (at least) one more thing:
This notion that we give our suffering to Christ so that He might use it to heal someone else or save someone else...it puts us in Christ's place. It hangs us on that Cross as the savior of the world. It puts on our shoulders what Christ has already borne for us.
And that realization, that understanding that if we give our suffering to God to heal someone else then it makes us into little saviors, helped me to think about the grander scheme of things.
Does God even want us to suffer?
This question gets interesting depending on who you ask it to. There are some branches of Christianity that believe that God sends us suffering to purify us. That He uses it to refine us. To punish us. To make us repent. To test our faith. The number of reasons seem to go on ad nauseum, all of these reasons why God wants His people to go through suffering.
There are other branches of Christianity that believe that God never wants His people to suffer. That He wants us to thrive. That the greatest testimony of our faith is to live a life without suffering, whether that means staying on a righteous path or somehow detaching ourselves from our earthly experience so that we are unaffected by anything that might potentially cause us something like suffering.
There are still other branches of Christianity that believe that God doesn't want us to suffer, but there's not really anything He can do about it. The broken world we live in, ruled by sin, is pretty much out of His control until He comes back and sets everything right, so suffering is inevitable until Jesus returns.
The trouble with these three ideas is that none of them give us an adequate vision of God. If God purposely makes us suffer because He wants us to suffer for some reason, then He is a sadistic God that is hard to worship. What is love in sadism? On the other hand, if God wants us to completely detach from our experience here and not be bothered by the world, why would He have sent us into it? It implies He doesn't really love His creation, and if He doesn't love His creation, how can we trust that He loves us? And if God can't do anything about our suffering, then He's not omnipotent. Period. And if He's not omnipotent (all-powerful), can we even rightfully call Him "God?"
It's that old thing I always come back to - you can't settle for an answer that raises more questions. If the answer you come to calls into question what you are sure you already knew (what God has said is truth about Him), then it can't be the answer.
Here's what I think:
I don't think God wants us to suffer. I think that's the whole reason Jesus went to the Cross for us, so that we wouldn't have to suffer any more. We can live with confident assurance about God and all of His promises and put the pain that we feel here into perspective. It is not up to us to suffer, and our suffering will not heal the world.
But I also think that God wants us to be willing to suffer. That is, He wants us to so wholly embrace our living and fully give ourselves to this life that He's given us that we can't help but suffer. But that when we do, we do so joyfully, with our eyes on His goodness. I think He wants us to be so engaged here that suffering is just part of the package - not because He wants it or doesn't want it or can't help it, but because we are so thoroughly plugged in to the life we're living for Him that it just is...and we accept it as the cost of living a holy life in a fallen world.
That's what I think.
Maybe I'm crazy.
Then again, if I'm crazy, hasn't He made me crazy?