What Our Identity in Christ Says About Our Suffering3
Last week, we continued a series on our identity in Christ by considering our adoption as sons. This week, we continue the series with a look at what our identity in Christ says about our suffering.
The suffering in our lives keeps us from doing and experiencing many good things, and it often teaches us bad things. Suffering has the tendency to pervert our perception of the world around us. Children who grow up abused often have uniquely distorted views of God, self, and others. Those who suffer traumatic experiences in any stage of life often have difficulty engaging with life after the trauma. Chronic pain or illness can keep us from so much of what we could be doing if only we were well, and we wonder if we're doing well enough under the circumstances or failing to redeem what little time we have. In the end, we often ask, "Is there any value in the years ravaged by another's sin? Is there any value in a life only half-lived due to our own folly, inability, or disability? Is there any good in all the bad, and what about all the bad we see in the good? Do we or our lives amount to anything more than the cumulative effect of sin upon sin and pain upon pain, or are we nothing more than failures who have been failed by others, wounded, broken, and destined to perpetuate the process in others?"
Of course, the hope of the gospel is that the limitations suffering places on our lives are not evil's restraints on goodness but God's means of establishing good boundary lines for His children. The hope of the gospel is that those who are in Christ follow in Christ's pattern of doing more good through death than through life, more good through weakness than through strength, more good through evil turned to good than through good all by itself. The hope of the gospel is that evil never has the final word, and it never operates for exclusively evil purposes. Rather, evil is always subject to the sovereign hand of our God who means for good what man means for bad, our God who works all things according to His good purpose so that even the ways in which we are least like Christ exist so that we and others can become more like Christ.
Thus, whether it is Paul telling us his pre-conversion sin is meant to be an example that God saves the worst of the worst (1 Tim 1:15-16), or Joseph telling his brothers their attempt to destroy his life was God's means of building his life (Gen 50:20), or Paul telling us that the subjection of creation to bondage and frustration was so that God might bring it into freedom (Rom 8:18-23), we find the constant testimony of Scripture is that the God who brings and allows these many forms of suffering into and through our lives is the same God who brings good out of the bad and who crowns us with praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1Pet 1:6-7).
This has everything to do with our identity, because we are not what the suffering tells us we are; we are what God tells us we are. Suffering says we are small versions of the whole: sin and suffering in a chain reaction that perverts all the good and perpetuates all the bad. God, quite to the contrary, says we are small parts of the whole: sin and suffering being subverted to highlight the good, punish the bad, and produce an eternal weight of glory which cannot be compared with our present, light and momentary afflictions. God’s word is final: we are sons, adopted and loved, and our suffering is not a contradiction to that word, but a means to its fulfillment.