Suffer with Him

Paul tells us that life in the Spirit results in becoming part of the family of God, joint heirs with his Son. He says, "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together" (Rom. 8:16-17).

The glory of the divine inheritance provided to the disciple of Jesus Christ is wondrous, but the condition put on that bequest is puzzling: "if so be that we suffer with him." Divine glory requires not only the divine suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross. It also requires our suffering with the Son.

What could that strange claim mean, the claim that divine glory is commensurate with divine suffering, for us as well as for God? Mormon scripture has something to say about that.

The synoptic gospels tell us about Jesus' suffering on the cross. Christian readers have long taken Isaiah 53:4, "he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, afflicted," to refer to that suffering. Early Christians understood Jesus to have suffered for our sins (Mt. 26:28), a suffering that reconciled us with God (Rom. 5:10). Similarly, Hebrews 9:12 speaks of him obtaining our redemption by his blood.

Latter-day Mormon scripture deepens this store of scriptural understanding. The Book of Mormon recognizes the centrality of suffering in Jesus' life. It prophesies of it before his coming: "he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind" (Alma 7:11). It refers back to his suffering when he comes: "I have drunk out of that bitter cup which the Father hath given me, and have glorified the Father in taking upon me the sins of the world" (3 Ne 11:11).

The Doctrine and Covenants, a collection of revelations to Joseph Smith, tells us why the Lord suffered: "I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent" (D&C 19:16). Yet it responds to our demand for an explanation of our suffering, not with a method for escaping suffering or a claim that we do not really suffer, but with this rhetorical question: "The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?" (D&C 122:8). If even God himself, the Son of God, cannot escape suffering, how should we expect to do so?

That could be small comfort, little more than an injunction to stop whining. But biblical and Latter-day scripture together teach that not only is suffering inescapable, it is an element of divinity.

John tells us that Jesus, seeing Mary's distress over the death of Lazarus, groaned within himself, and seeing the place of Lazarus's burial, he wept. Possible theodicies and rational explanations of suffering are irrelevant at a moment like that. The Son of God, Creator of the universe and the author of our redemption from both physical and spiritual death, weeps for us in our sorrow, and even he weeps at the death of one he loves. To be God is to suffer.

We see this more fully in another revelation to Joseph Smith, a revelation of a revelation of Moses:

And it came to pass that the God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept; . . . . And Enoch said unto the Lord: How is it that thou canst weep, seeing thou art holy, and from all eternity to all eternity? . . . The Lord said unto Enoch: . . . unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood. (Moses 7:28-29, 32-33)

12/2/2022 9:09:22 PM
  • Mormon
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  • James Faulconer
    About James Faulconer
    James Faulconer is a Richard L. Evans Professor of Religious Understanding at Brigham Young University, where he has taught philosophy since 1975.