None of us really welcomes the difficult times of life. Suffering and struggle are not two words we like to see in our life résumé, and are not easily paired with enjoyment and satisfaction. In our spiritual lives we tend to intuitively link the two with being out of step with the purposes of God, and instinctively pause to reflect what we might have done wrong to find ourselves confronting uncomfortable circumstances. And were anyone to suggest that we ought to embrace suffering and struggle as gifts, we might question their integrity.
Against this backdrop, when we read Hebrews 2:10: For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings, our first question generally is focussed on how and why Jesus needed to be made perfect, given his status as Son of God. The question of means is put to one side in the light of a different conundrum. Yet let me now ask this different question: if you were to perfect someone, why choose suffering as a means?
Clearly the writer saw suffering as no impediment to achieving the purposes of God, nor as a barrier in the pathway to perfection. By ascribing the primary means to perfection as suffering, the writer to the Hebrews launches a full-frontal assault on popular culture’s nefarious provenance for it. It is a theme which emerges again in Hebrews 5, whereby the lesson of obedience is posited as finding its origins in suffering.
Instead, we find ourselves more like Peter who, when confronted by Jesus with the news that he would suffer and die, vehemently decried this as in any way part of the Messianic plan. Having just made the greatest confession of faith (Mk 8:29f, Mt 16:16f), Peter renounces any positive role for suffering in the life of Jesus.
Looking back on deep struggles in my own life and of those I love – including ten years of infertility and the extremely premature birth of our third child, I can honestly say that these are circumstances I would not wish on anyone. Yet out of these circumstances have come lessons and perspectives which have left a deep and continuing impact upon my life. I have learned lessons of patience, compassion, and wonder which continue to shape me. I am thankful for the lessons, though wishing they could have been learned in other ways…which is not to say that we shouldn’t work to alleviate suffering.
Some aspects of life bring reality into clearer focus. Suffering itself may be the pathway to riches we cannot obtain by any other means. By the grace of God.
July 15, 2007