Saturday, March 11, 2006

Redemptive Suffering

"A thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness." I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong. " (2 Corinthians: 7-10)

Oh Lord, why is there suffering in the world?

This question is asked whenever we see a person dying. The pain that a person endures as their life is drawn out of them due to an illness like cancer is something indescribable. Some people choose to avoid it through assisted suicide and some persevere until the very end.

Suffering is a result of the Fall of Man. In Eden, there was to be no suffering. After the Fall, Man brought a curse to the earth that has scorched it since the beginning of time.

Does God want us to suffer?


Why? I don't know. Who am I to question God? However, He wanted Christ to suffer and Christ knew the suffering that was to come and His anxiety was so great that He sweated blood. Perhaps He wanted Christ to suffer as an example to all of us who have to suffer to a much lesser degree every day of our lives.

He also wanted Paul to suffer as noted in the above passage. Paul did not want whatever affliction he had and asked God to take it away from him. God's response: "My grace is sufficient for you."

What are we to do with suffering?

"Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of His body, which is the church" (Colossians 1:24)

My father died from stomach cancer two years ago and although he suffered immeasurably, he never showed it. At that same time, my wife was expecting our first (and for now only) child. As you could imagine it was a time of great joy and great sorrow in our family.

In my father's last few weeks as he laid in his bed dying, a priest called him. He asked him if he'd had his last confession (which he'd already had) and then told him something that I'll never forget. (My father didn't tell me this...the priest did months later only after asking him.)

The suffering that my father was going through. The immeasurable pain he was feeling. The priest told my father to "Give it meaning." The term that the Church uses is "Redemptive Suffering." It's what Christ did on His path to the cross and it's what Paul is referring to in the above passages.

In redemptive suffering, we bind the suffering to our intercessory prayers and through the suffering the prayer has more meaning to God.

Although my father never told me what he was doing, I know that through all the pain that he went through, his prayer to God through it all was:

"Lord, I am suffering for my unborn grandchild."

When I think about that, I cry.


Modern Day Magi said...

In redemptive suffering, we bind the suffering to our intercessory prayers and through the suffering the prayer has more meaning to God.
don't know what I think about this idea. It is true that our weakness allows His strength to prevail, but our suffering giving more weight to our prayers?
Sounds a lot like being works based faith to me.
Logically it can follow then that a christian who prays will be more effective if praying with a freshly broken arm, or while whipping themself...
Is this idea supported by scripture? because if so I would like to read up on it.

TheDen said...

Hey MDM,

Thank you as always for commenting on my posts. Your thoughts and input are greatly appreciated.

It was 2:00 in the morning when I wrote that so I may have been unclear.

I don't know if I would use the term more weight to our prayers but just that our prayer has more meaning.

In suffering, a person can have a tendency to want the attention focused on them.

"Oh God, why are You doing this to me!?!?"

"What have I done to deserve this pain!!!!?"

In redemptive suffering, you accept your pain as Christ accepts His cross and you offer it up for someone else.

"My Lord and My God, I'm suffering for my that He may be drawn closer to You..."

A few things that I also want to note.

1. The suffering that we experience should not be self-immolation. It's accepting the suffering that has entered into your life.

2. When offering your sufferings for someone, Catholics don't offer it up for someone else's (or their own salvation (or at least they shouldn't). It should be intercessory and for that person to draw closer to God...or perhaps that they live a long healthy life. The prayer should be kept private. I honestly don't know what my father prayed for but I do know that he was focusing on my unborn child (daughter) as it was his goal to live to see her and since my wife was still early in her pregnancy, anything could happen.

3. The only "work" that's involved is the act of praying...which we are all called to do. Tying the prayer to the suffering gives the suffering meaning. If a person breaks his arm, then yeah there's pain involved. We can say, "Lord, my arm is broken, help my brother." (Don't go breaking your arm on purpose...)

4. The response to the prayer is still entirely up to God and our prayer must conform to God's will. If we're praying that "I'm suffering so that my surviving spouse wins the lottery"...maybe God won't respond in the affirmative. However, if we are praying that "I'm suffering for my spouse...that she be provided for in my absence. " Then that prayer has meaning. Will God respond to that in the affirmative...maybe/maybe not. It's all up to God.

If anyone has ever seen a person die of cancer, it's an extremely painful ordeal. At that time, Jesus is more present in that person's life then ever because of the suffering...and the prayers of people around the dying person.

In an act of "dying to self," a person should follow Christ and suffer and die to bring another person closer to Him.

Regarding scriptural passages. I thought that those two passages were pretty good. Off of the top of my head, another one that comes to mind is Exodus 3:7-8

But the Lord said, "I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry of complaint against their slave drivers, so I know well what they are suffering. Therefore, I have come down to rescue them from the hands of the Egyptians and lead them out of that land.

For more on scriptural passages (I can't vouch for them...just another Catholic who has looked them up):


Modern Day Magi said...

Thanks theden,
I get and agree with the suffering (not self mutilation) being a way to focus on Jesus. In our weakness he makes us strong, When we are weary He gives us rest etc.
The part I think I am having trouble with is that I understand you to be saying that.
1. Offer our suffering to God.
2. While suffering our Prayers are more meaningful / weighty.

I think it should be more like this.
1. Offer our suffering to God.
2. Use our reliance on His strength and provision to draw us near to Him.
3. When we are nearer to Him we can see things in our life we need to repent of and deal with.
4. Once we are closer to God and are dealing with sins we are conviceted of, then our prayers are more effective.
James 5:16 - Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.
Maybe it is what you meant but i just fels a couple of degrees of separation were missing.

As to the scriptures you gave:
they are great. However i dont think they are about prayer. They are about rejoycing in our hardship which are for our Faith in Him, and giving thanks to Him always, even and especially when we are suffering. It is easy to give thanks when stuff is going well.

TheDen said...

Hey MDM,

As far as how it all works, what you are saying is probably more accurate as to how the redemptive suffering works (and makes sense in my head).

I think I haven't thought about it as in depthly. It's a concept I truly don't understand (i.e. I'm not an expert in this as I haven't truly suffered as others have) but what you're saying is more the point of what I am getting at.

Thanks for clarifying.


Modern Day Magi said...

I thought that was the case but I just wanted to check.
reading and commenting on some of the 'reformed' blogs has me nitpicking where I probably shouldnt. I really need to be explicit when making a point on manyof thier blogsites.
It does help to be over clear though, as it encourages us to rethink and reexamine our ideas.
Keep up the good work.