17 June 2005

Redemptive Suffering

I'm sick; so sick that I haven't been able to work since the fall of 1998. Not being able to work has given me great deal of time to devote to reading, writing, and praying; although, I have accomplished less than a quarter of the reading, writing, and praying I could have accomplished given the same amount of time and no illness. As the world sees it, the larger portion of the last seven years of my life has been a waste. I must admit that it has been a struggle, very hard struggle, to accept my illness and view this time as not being wasted, but as an opportunity to share in Christ's suffering.

Accepting suffering is counterculture, even among many Christians. The fear of suffering has caused many to do just the opposite, and reject suffering. It has been suggested to me by some well meaning, but misguided, Christians that I should bind the spirit of depression and the spirit of psychosis, and reject them in the Name of Jesus Christ. I do not take this advice, nor do not let these people pray over me because such action would be based totally on fear, and would only create more fear, which is exactly what Satan wants. The more one accepts his suffering, the less afraid of it he becomes, which takes power away from Satan, and gives it to Christ.

It is true that miracles happen, but the miracle that one may want is not necessarily the miracle that one gets. There were many sick people by the Pool of Bethsaida (cf. John 5:3), but Jesus only healed one of them (cf. John 5:5-9). It is good to ask for a miracle, but it must be asked that it happen according to God's Will, such as Shadrach, Meshack, and Abednego: "But even if He does not..." (cf. Daniel 3:16-18).

Once one embraces his suffering as Christ did, he can unite his suffering with Christ's suffering, and it becomes redemptive. This gives meaning to the suffering so that it is not a "waste."

I liken the suffering of this life to that of the afterlife. There are two forms of suffering in the afterlife: the eternal suffering of Hell, and the temporary suffering of Purgatory. Hell is the absence of God. Through the conscious decisions an individual makes in this life, he chooses to not be in the presence of God, and this absence of God creates suffering. This is akin to non-redemptive suffering. It is a waste; eternal suffering for nothing. There is no reason or propose to this suffering.

Redemptive suffering is akin to the suffering of Purgatory. Through the conscious decisions an individual makes in this life, he chooses to be in the presence of God, but the presence of God may create suffering. The purpose of this suffering is purification. The presence of God burns away all impurities, leaving the individual in the state of perfection so that he can be in the presence of God without suffering.

While Purgatory in the afterlife and redemptive suffering in this life are similar, they have a couple of very distinct differences. Purgatory prepares an individual for Heaven, and the closer that individual gets to perfection, the less he suffers. Redemptive suffering can be individualistic and benefit only the one that is suffering; however, like the suffering of Christ, it can be offered up to God for the benefit others. As well, like the suffering of Christ, redemptive suffering many times increases as an individual gets closer to perfection. Christ, being God, was, and is, perfect; therefore His suffering was more than any of us that cannot attain perfection in this life.

While the physical suffering of Christ was severe, others have suffered as much, and maybe even more. Christ's greatest suffering, which surpasses the suffering of any creature, was spiritual. This spiritual suffering was the abandonment of God the Father (cf. Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34; Psalm 22). Like Christ, as many of the great saints became closer to God, the more they felt abandoned by God, as described by St. John of the Cross in the Dark Night of the Soul.

Because of sin, there is suffering in this life. This suffering can create resentment towards God, or it can bring one closer to God. Each one of us must make this choice.