Monday, December 29, 2014

1 Peter 4:1-2 -- On the Usefulness of Suffering

"Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin;
That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God."
1 Peter 4:1-2

The whole idea of suffering being valuable is a hard one to grasp sometimes.  Pain never seems like a good thing... and being hurt "for your own good" seems like an empty thing people say to justify overly harsh treatment.  However, thinking about Christ's suffering, for us, I think I can see that as a positive thing overall, although of course I wish there had been another way.  But it was a choice.  He chose to suffer, and he chose to do that for us.  It wasn't an empty pain, and it wasn't an unwilling torture.  And thinking about that, I think... wow.  An external observer looking at Christ's life without any context would of *course* say that a lot of it was done *to* him, rather than Christ choosing it, and that the injustice of the system was to blame, and so many things that were only choices because we know that Christ knew that they were coming, and he had the power to walk away at any time.
Instead of being mad that he was chosen to suffer, mad that he had to do it, or depressed that he could see the inevitable coming and couldn't walk away without hurting all of us, Christ chose it, freely.  He owned his suffering.  And maybe that is what "arming ourselves likewise with the same mind" means here.  Suffering, when we own it, when we accept it and use it, can be a tool.  Not a fun tool.  I don't think Christ was enjoying the cross.  But a tool nevertheless.  One that can help us to rise above the physical and attach ourselves firmly to the spiritual.
At the beginning of my mission, I felt like I was at my limit.  I was stressed, tired, and overwhelmed, physically and emotionally.  I remember feeling like my body wasn't keeping me going anymore, but the spirit kept me functional.  I don't know how much of that was reality, but to me, it seems similar to what these verses are saying.  Owning the physical and emotional hardships, and finding a way, with God, to continue anyway, and even to rise above my personal limitations.  One invaluable lesson I learned on my mission was that I could rely on God even when I had no other support structure.  And that lesson was worth every bit and more of what I went through to learn it. 
And Maybe that is what suffering allows us to learn, and to do, if we accept it and use it, rather than just trying to avoid it.  Some suffering is inevitable.  Other kinds are important, even though we probably could avoid them and learn a lot less.  Today, no matter whether our suffering is avoidable or not, let's own it.  Let's choose it even if it isn't really optional.  Let's choose to do it for others where that is possible, and for God where it isn't.  Let's take the pain and turn it into something we can use to rise above ourselves and become more.  Let's learn to rely on God and his strength, even after ours has failed.

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