I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:10-11).
Why does the Apostle Paul want to share in Christ’s suffering?
I mean, pain and suffering are bad. They destroy our capacity to live and love and do things that matter. We have surgeons and anesthesiologists and thermostats for a reason. Suffering sucks. But suffering will come our way, and we won’t always have a door out or around it.
Stuff happens. Then what?
The Apostle Paul was familiar with suffering. He had lived the good and the bad. He knew “the secret of being well-fed and of going without” (Phil. 4:12). He made sense of suffering–and of life–through the cross of Christ. Thus he told the church in Philippi that he wanted to share in Christ’s sufferings and become like Christ in death. He claimed that without this sharing, there could be no resurrection. He wrote in another letter that he wanted only to boast in the cross of Christ, “by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14). He said that he wanted to know nothing “except Jesus Christ and his death on the cross” (1 Cor. 2:2).
This is potent stuff, a theology rooted in Paul’s lived and prayed conviction. It’s good theology. But like all theology, it’s all fine until somebody gets hurt. You see, hurt shakes our convictions. Hurt rattles our capacity even to be convicted–about others, about ourselves. About God.We accompanied a church member on her first day back to work at the Excel lawnmower plant in Hesston, KS. We walked quietly through the plant with her as she pointed out details of production. It was a kind of prayer tour. And then we came to the paint line, where the killer had squeezed death’s trigger. Pistons of pressurized air hissed above us. Powdered paint substrate lay piled on the floor like industrial turmeric. We put our arms around our friend and stood with her in that place of hurt.
What does it mean to know Christ crucified in these places? Without becoming glib, I believe it is possible to understand our suffering as being drawn up into the suffering of Christ’s cross, and thus also tugged toward his resurrection. To pray our way into this sort of understanding of suffering doesn’t make the hurt go away, but it changes it. The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it like this:
The lives of the faithful, their praise, sufferings, prayer, and work, are united with those of Christ and with his total offering, and so acquire a new value. (1368)
All of life becomes offering, including suffering. The meaning of the hurt is transfigured.
This is holy ground. We must never shoe-horn anyone’s experience into an easy redemption. But what the Apostle Paul testifies to in his letters, generations of the faithful have recognized in their own lives: the cross changes things.
The cross means that even in suffering, our lives can become an offering. It means that Jesus is with us. The cross means God puts his arms around us and stands with us in our places of hurt.