Thursday, May 13, 2010

Suffering is Lost on Some People

This quote got me thinking recently about the different effects suffering has on different people.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2 Corinthians 12:9

“Christ says to those who seek deliverance from pain and sorrow, ‘It is enough that I love you.’ . . . Most Christians are satisfied in trying to be resigned under suffering. They think it is a great thing if they can bring themselves to submit to be the dwelling-place of Christ’s power. To rejoice in their afflictions because thereby Christ is glorified is more than they aspire to. Paul’s experience was far above that standard. . . .

When really weak in ourselves, and conscious of that weakness, we are in the state suited to the manifestation of the power of God. When emptied of ourselves, we are filled with God. Those who think they can change their own hearts, atone for their own sins, subdue the power of evil in their own souls or in the souls of others, who feel able to sustain themselves under affliction, God leaves to their own resources. But when they feel and acknowledge their weakness, he communicates to them divine strength.”

Charles Hodge, An Exposition of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, 1973 reprint), pages 287-289.

When I hear that a person has suffered something deep and/or tragic, I often begin to assume they are a "safe place" for fellow sufferers. "Safe place" meaning a refuge for those who also suffer, someone who:

- is quick to listen, and (very) slow to give advice
- embraces the mystery of processes involved in life (life is messy and not easily figured out!)
- has a deep tenderness that is rooted in the Father's mercy (2 Cor 1:3-4)
- continues to pursue God even in (especially in) darkness and pain
- owns their own brokenness and weakness
- shows patience with strugglers and questioners

But more often than not it seems, when I encounter a believer who has suffered a devastating loss of some kind they are NOT safe people for fellow sufferers. The way I usually find this out is to share a bit of my story to "test the relational waters" to see if it's safe to wade in; I often receive advice and/or a harshness that makes me want to jump out and quick! I always leave encounters feeling discouraged, confused and even a little betrayed.

Now, I quickly learn to pursue those friendships with brothers who have proven themselves to be safe, and I count these as a deep blessing. But it makes me wonder why some Christians don't ever seem to become refuges for fellow sufferers though they have suffered deeply themselves. Perhaps the more they suffer the more they believe that they are "owed" something in return; perhaps they don't go deep with their questions, but only remain as deep as necessary to maintain a semblance of control. Hodge's comments above suggest that it is because they are "resigned in suffering" and not really seeking to go deeper with God. Thoughts anyone?

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