We'll Get There, But There's Going to be Some Pain
Now that my wife knows me and my family well, she likes to tease us Huangs that when we travel, the motto is "we'll get there, but there's going to be some pain." Meaning that we are too cheap, stubborn, or masochistic to ever do something the easy way. Amy jokes that if God was a Huang, that's exactly what he would say before He sent the Israelites off into the desert to wander for 40 years.
Kidding aside, there is in fact a little Huangness in God. We here in America have inoculated our Christian faith to the point that suffering has become a dirty word. If it's talked about at all in the church, it's to offer the church as the antidote to suffering: if you're in pain, you can pray and God will take it away. Or, if you're slightly less selfish, you think of church as existing to take away the suffering of the world.
So it seems particularly strange to think of suffering as a good thing, something you would choose into instead of try desperately to get out of. It would seem to go against our very human nature. Some consider suffering to be something to be swept under the rug, for how will we bring people into the fold if we tell them "there's going to be some pain"? And besides, our whole religion centers on One who suffered for us; isn't that as far as the whole suffering thing has to go?
Comfort seeker that I am, I wish it were so. And yet, I cannot help but keep bumping into sections of the Bible that tell me otherwise. Consider these four from the New Testament:
"But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ." - Philippians 3:7-8
"By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward." - Hebrews 11:24-26
"Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach." - Hebrews 13:12-13
"Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose." - 1 Peter 4:1
If modern American has largely found Christianity irrelevant and ungripping, perhaps it is because not enough of us so-called believers have made these and other parts of the Bible relevant to and gripping in our lives. If in fact the Jesus narrative is true, and we who profess to know it turn around and do not expend ourselves to the point of suffering and reproach and ill treatment on behalf of His work and His people, why should those who do not follow decide to follow?
Conversely, if we who follow Jesus did as Paul, counting all our worldly gain as loss in comparison to knowing Jesus, even and especially in His suffering, that would tell the world something about what is truly worthwhile, wouldn't it? If we did like Moses and said no to worldly riches we were entitled to and yes to suffering with and for God's people, might that cause people to think twice about what they themselves place value on and spend their lives pursuing?
And, if we don't make real the Jesus story, it is likely lost in peoples' minds. Consider the shock value of the once popular itinerant preacher man, who was so compelling and miraculous that some began to wonder if He was the one, being relegated to the plight of the common criminal: ramrodded through an unjust trial, mocked by soldiers and passersby as He walked the walk of a condemned man, hung on a cross in broad daylight to demonstrate that He too was not bigger than the Roman Empire. The story continues in the lives of followers like you and me, who are supposed to pick up where He left off in His suffering and reproach, and ourselves suffer and be reproached. But that story means nothing more than a shrug of the shoulders to the modern American if it is not lived out in the real lives of real people making real choices to forsake worldly profit and temporal comfort in order to bear the marks of shame and pain on behalf of One who first bore them for us.
Comfort seeker that I am, I often wish it didn't work this way. I get to that section of 1 Peter, for example, and wish it ended like this: "Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, you don't have to suffer." If you want to make your own religion, you can believe whatever you want, including this modified version of Scripture. As for me, I'm asking for a little help to stick with what was written and stick through to the end; after all, consider how Peter's first letter ends: "After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you."