Today I wanted to share with you a reflection I wrote last month. I was reading Judges and listening to a talk by Dr. Scott Hahn (Theology Professor at Franciscan University), “Making Sense of Suffering.” It’s a topic we all struggle with at one time or another. In his talk, Scott Hahn explains how, as part of the body of Christ, we actually must suffer with Him to then be raised with Him.
That comes right from Colossians 2:12: “having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.”
He goes on to explain how the single most shocking concept in Catholicism versus other Christians is this idea to “offer it up,” that is, to offer our sufferings in union with Christ.
“Offer what up?” He references the Bible again.
“I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Colossians 1:24).
What does it mean, “lacking”? Jesus suffering was enough, he said. But enough for what?
Jesus suffering was enough to transform our suffering into redemptive power, so we can unite our suffering to His.
The key is the acceptance of suffering to make us like Jesus, one with Him, part of His body, a sacrificial lover.
(Dr. Hahn goes into more detail, but these are my notes. To listen to the whole thing, visit Form.org)
Jesus died on the cross to redeem suffering, that is, to give meaning to it; that is, rather than take suffering away, He changed the perspective on it, He allowed it to be used for good even if it itself is far from good.
Why not just take away suffering? Well, for one, think of what happens when He takes away suffering, when He frees His people from those who oppress them. They oppress His people in the first place because they chose to turn away from God, and in turning away from God, He respects our wish to not be with Him; therefore we lose His protection.
In Judges, and throughout the whole Old Testament, the Israelites turned away to serve the gods of other nations and so God allowed those nations that they chose to overwhelm them and enslave them. He allowed their free will and said, very well, if you will not accept my will for you, then “thy will be done.” See, by refusing to accept God’s law and to serve Him as the Almighty, we thus refuse all of God because He cannot deny Himself.
“If we endure [suffer, in many translations], we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us. If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:12-13).
So, when those in captivity cry out for mercy and turn back to Him, what happens if He simply rescues them by conquering the other nations, by taking away the suffering?
Here is the passage I read from Judges 10:
“The sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD, served the Baals and the Ashtaroth, the gods of Aram, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the sons of Ammon, and the gods of the Philistines; thus they forsook the LORD and did not serve Him. The anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and He sold them into the hands of the Philistines and into the hands of the sons of Ammon. They afflicted and crushed the sons of Israel that year; for eighteen years they afflicted all the sons of Israel who were beyond the Jordan in Gilead in the land of the Amorites. The sons of Ammon crossed the Jordan to fight also against Judah, Benjamin, and the house of Ephraim, so that Israel was greatly distressed. Then the sons of Israel cried out to the LORD, saying, “We have sinned against You, for indeed, we have forsaken our God and served the Baals.” The LORD said to the sons of Israel, “Did I not deliver you from the Egyptians, the Amorites, the sons of Ammon, and the Philistines? Also when the Sidonians, the Amalekites and the Maonites oppressed you, you cried out to Me, and I delivered you from their hands. Yet you have forsaken Me and served other gods; therefore I will no longer deliver you. Go and cry out to the gods which you have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your distress.” The sons of Israel said to the LORD, “We have sinned, do to us whatever seems good to You; only please deliver us this day.” So they put away the foreign gods from among them and served the LORD; and He could bear the misery of Israel no longer.”
The Israelites, as all fallen human beings whom God has given free will, always eventually fell again. They always turned away from God, even though He continually saved them. It turned into a vicious cycle throughout the whole Old Testament.
So what did God do? He sent a Savior. His Son. He sent Him not to physically free His people from the Romans, as many people believed, because He knew His people would eventually again refuse Him. So to save us, to show us how much He loves us and wants us, He died so we could enter Heaven. He died to show us why we should not serve other gods, not just because He is the One true God, but because He desperately loves us and wants what is best for us.
And instead of dying to take away suffering—because He knew we would continually bring suffering on ourselves when we choose to leave Him—instead of taking away suffering, He redeemed it. He gave it redemptive meaning so that WHEREVER we are, whatever we suffer, whatever situation we are in, even in that we can find His grace and purpose and peace. That through suffering, we can be closer to Him because He suffered (and suffered more).
We take part, just a little part, in the redemption of the world and our own souls when we offer our sufferings to Him. Thus, even if we are under the oppression of other nations, if we accept His grace through the suffering, we have hope because He can use that for even greater good.
Thus when I am struggling, I try to remind myself to pray: “Lord, show me what you can do, even with this.
“Jesus, though it is hard, I put my trust in you. For by Your Holy cross, by the worst suffering imaginable, you redeemed the world.”
God bless you and keep you,