Monday, September 16, 2013

The Unique Nature of Christian Suffering is Healed by Christ and His Church

What follows is based on my part of a private conversation about Christian suffering.  I thought that it would be good to share:


Years ago, I once asked "What deepens, sharpens, and improves prayer?"
Pr Paul McCain replied with a one word answer: "affliction." (Note:  This actually happened on this blog.  Here is the post.)  I have  probably never received an answer as true, deep, and simple as that. Here, at the end of this dark road of mine, I have grown to understand the stanza of "A Mighty Fortress" much better where Luther writes:

And take they our life, Goods, fame, child, and wife,
Let these all be gone, our vict'ry has been won;
The kingdom ours remaineth.

After all, what is this Kingdom of ours but Christ Himself reigning and giving His gifts just as He promised to give us through the power of the Spirit? What can anyone do to take the blessed salvation of God from us when it is given to us freely on account of Christ? They can take our temporal happiness, our possessions, our human dignity, our families, even our lives. While this is horrific to consider much less experience, the one thing that is needful is beyond man's reach. Indeed, let all the rest of it be gone for there can be no treasure or victory here on earth that compares to the priceless gifts our Lord mercifully bestows on each of us.

I have learned of this tentatio very intimately. I have come to know that all men suffer in varying degrees regardless of their belief. Persecution is not uniquely visited on God's elect. Personal experience and the outcry of the psalmist teach us that both good and evil fall upon the righteous and the unrighteous indiscriminately. Even among martyrs there are those who are persecuted even to death for false religions and temporal causes.

While all men certainly suffer, it is the Christian alone who uniquely suffers as Christ suffered: rejected, scorned, and afflicted. While it seems to be no greater or less than the suffering of others in a broad since, it is somehow distinctly different--even strange--to the sufferings that the rest of the world endures.

As we are sanctified and conformed to Christ, the new man is renewed and strengthened in the faith by the Spirit. Our desires change as we live and love God's law to the degree that we are enabled by faith while we daily put to death our old sinful flesh. By the Spirit we do not worry or dread about the things that once troubled us in the flesh and in its place a holy zeal, longing, and compassion grows in the heart of faith. It makes us strangers here in ways I had never really understood.

And so we suffer apart from the world in ways that the world cannot fully appreciate nor predict. Nor can the world truly fix our suffering. They do not understand it because the cause of our trials are spiritual discerned. They cannot really comfort us through their darkened thinking with their temporal pleasures and sinful catharsis. The know only of what St. Augustine called "The City of Man" which is centered in the love of self and the pride of life and know nothing of "The City of God" whose light and center is Christ. It is this bleak expanse of mankind as they live in their futility that brightens the light of Christ's church in my eyes when I compare the two cities contrast.

This embassy of God's heavenly city here on earth is where the only true rest for me resides... where the only comfort for the suffering Christian is freely given and shared: this Gospel of ours where we pitiful sinners stand redeemed before God by grace alone; this divine blessing, a bright and unending dawn, that dispels the long night of sin and death; this mystic sweet communion that we members of Christ's body share with one another which is our blessed consolation and joy as we bear one another's burdens and await the consummation of His kingdom on the Last Day.

Dear Christian, Christ and His church, by faith, will be enough to see me through all of the suffering of this evil age until the end of the age where we will both see the end of all our tears.

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