Sufferings of Christ
I remember a time when I was quite young that my parents for whatever reason, allowed me to ride somewhere in a car with a young man I didn't know. He evidently seemed trustworthy enough for my parents to send me with him for a ride alone, and while I have no recollection of where we went, I distinctly remember the nature of the conversation we had in the car that day.
This man was not a member of my brand of religion, so I felt a bit awkward. I was raised very religious, and most of my life I had only been around people who belonged to my church so I knew little of how to talk with 'outsiders.' I was however, keenly aware about witnessing to unbelievers about 'the truth.' At the same time I was not yet thoroughly trained with all the answers for every question people might ask, so when he asked me what my church believed I suddenly felt paralyzed with fear. I felt like God was putting me on the spot and felt ashamed that I was unprepared to have an answer to give for my 'faith.' So in desperation I scrambled to recall what in fact I really did believe.
In my embarrassment about all I could recall was that we believe the seventh-day is the Sabbath and is very important to keep holy. I may have said something about health too, but one unexpected thing that I said was that God wanted us to suffer. I'm not sure why that came to me as a belief we held – maybe my parents had been discussing it recently. Whatever the reason, when I mentioned this he immediately protested saying that he couldn't believe that God wanted people to suffer.
Chagrined that I could not defend my beliefs or even articulate them well, I didn't have much more to add to that conversation. Yet I never forgot this experience as it started me wondering why this issue of suffering even came to my mind in the first place as significant to what I thought about God.
This issue has recently been recently brought to my attention again. The question has been raised about the necessity of the sufferings of Christ – were they really necessary or not? Most of my life I was trained to believe in the penal substitution explanation of salvation, so generally I assumed that the sufferings of Jesus were simply part of how He had to pay for my sins so I wouldn't have to suffer being punished in hell if I...well, if I could figure out the right formula to appropriate His sacrifice of suffering that could effectively hide me from God's wrath so God wouldn't do the same to me because I had enough faith in His Son's death to block God from punishing me for all my infractions of the Law. But that included the prerequisite that I confess and get forgiveness from God for every single sin I had ever committed without exception, or else if I missed a single one I would then have to be punished for all of them and Christ's substitute sacrifice for me would no longer cover any of my sins.
Though some may feel uncomfortable with questioning what may seem to be this long settled doctrine of substitutionary penal atonement, I have come to learn that God is eager for me to ask questions of Him when anything doesn't make sense, and He actually loves for me to wrestle with anything that fuels doubt in my heart about His goodness. If ever there was a topic that has raised a lot of questions about the goodness of God, this is certainly one of them.
For some this may appear to be an easy open and shut case. After all, just slap down a few key texts proving that in fact it was absolutely necessary for Christ to suffer. This should silence all questioning right? Just simply believe what Jesus said and leave it at that. End of discussion.
He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. (Mark 8:31)
He said to them, "Elijah indeed comes first, and restores all things. How is it written about the Son of Man, that he should suffer many things and be despised? (Mark 9:12)
He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered, "The Christ of God." But he warned them, and commanded them to tell this to no one, saying, "The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and the third day be raised up." (Luke 9:20-22)
He said to them, "Foolish men, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Didn't the Christ have to suffer these things and to enter into his glory?" Beginning from Moses and from all the prophets, he explained to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
There, that settles it, right? Well not so quick. At the risk of sounding skeptical, I have learned that I must honest about reservations I have when I feel dissonance about something, and this issue of suffering is certainly one of those. There was a reason it was one of the few things that came to my mind as a child when asked about what I believed. When it comes to suffering there may be no other topic so sensitive as this one that can arouse intense reactions about the fairness or justice of God. Furthermore, religion and abuse of authority has supported many false notions about the supposed value of suffering, even using it as a cover to vindicate all sorts of abuses and exploitation of innocent victims throughout history. This clearly is not an open and shut case as many might want to argue.
For instance, it is well known that many marginalized classes of people have been told that the abuse and suffering they are forced to endure at the hands of those in power should be accepted humbly because in doing so they are piously following Jesus, their example of suffering willingly. Unspeakable violence has thus been excused by people in authority, masked under the pretension that suffering is God's will for us and that it might even involve acquiring some kind of merit.
This brings me to the very core of a question that must be exposed and examined more honestly and openly. Is suffering in some way salvific, to use a religious term? In other words, is suffering itself expected of us by God as part of being saved? Does suffering produce merit? Or might there be enormous misunderstanding and potential for exploitation under cover of pious platitudes designed to hide sadistic evil atrocities, all in the name of God?
This is closely linked to another issue that has concurrently come to my attention as of late, that being the issue of merit. I slipped into a discussion online about merit recently after someone posted a long list of quotations about the merits of Christ compared to merit of other humans. I raised questions about the real meaning and implications of the word merit itself, but only elicited a rather strong response in a barrage of more quotations leaving me reluctant to continue the discussion at all. I was not looking to start an argument but rather was seeking for honest dialog about the implications and motivations for quoting the statements. But when someone seems more interested in compelling others to accept their views with little willingness to discuss their own presumptions, I find little desire to continue dialog as the spirit of controversy is not something I feel safe being around.
I am not suggesting discrediting anything that seems to suggest that suffering was necessary in the life of Jesus by any means. Neither am I insinuating that the mention of merit is completely wrong and should have no place in our discussion of truth. What I do challenge increasingly are the many false presumptions that religion has brought into our thinking about these words, inferring dark motives in the heart of God. Such misleading inferences destroy our capacity to love and respect God and is just what He has been leading me away from for many years now. This is why I part ways with those who are unwilling to engage in honest conversation with a willingness to challenge paradigms that may in fact be found to be blasphemy and contradict the revelation of God given us through His Son.
When it comes to our notions about suffering, there can be all sorts of assumptions that can affect our thinking and infiltrate our teachings that act like Trojan horses bringing in darkness and mingling lies with the light of truth that Jesus reveals. I want to be delivered from all such invasions of my soul, for I have already lived too long with dark views of God that did little but keep me afraid and locked my heart from even being able to let Him love me. I have come to the place where I now challenge vigorously anything that might reintroduce lies about God into my thinking, for God has worked for years setting me free from much of this baggage and I do not want to lose this freedom and be drawn back into that bondage of fear again.
If therefore the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:36)
One of the subtle effects of believing typical notions about why we believe it necessary that Christ had to suffer is that it spills into a similar presumption of a necessity for His followers to also suffer. Does this mean that all suffering is supposedly good? Many seem to assume so, for the more religious one appears to be, the more some imagine that suffering is a prerequisite of holiness. This is an extremely important question to ponder thoughtfully and there are far too many presumptions involved that are founded on false premises which have provided cover for untold abuses for many years.
But the Lord said to him, "Go your way, for he is my chosen vessel to bear my name before the nations and kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for my name's sake." (Acts 9:15-16)
A theology that glorifies suffering – as many forms of dour self-focused pietism have done over the centuries – is therefore a misrepresentation of the theology of the cross, and of the crucified one. Jesus does not call us to love suffering, but rather to love those who suffer, and consequently to live vulnerably in solidarity with them, in order to alleviate and end suffering by overcoming evil with grace. Sharing in the sufferings of Christ means joining Him in radically loving others, especially the least. Its ultimate focus is on radically loving, not on suffering.
...God is there with us in the middle of abuse. God is there with us at our ugliest, and will not let anything estrange us or dehumanize us. God honors and loves us in that dehumanized state, and even refuses to dehumanize those who have dehumanized us.
...God is not triumphantly off in the clouds observing us from afar, God is here, among us in our pain. That is where we need to be too, close to those in need, close to the least. We focus on the cross to remember all of the victims around us, and to remember that – just as God was there when Jesus cried out in desperation on the cross, God is also there even in the middle of our pain and doubt.
...In that suffering God we meet the protesting God – a God who wants us to weep, who wants us to question, who wants us to resist. The cry against injustice is one planted deep within the human soul. God has placed this cry in our hearts because God wants us to question suffering and injustice.
(Healing the Gospel by Derek Flood, p. 84-85)
(Healing the Gospel by Derek Flood, p. 84-85)
For as the sufferings of Christ abound to us, even so our comfort also abounds through Christ.
(2 Corinthians 1:5)
I do not suggest that living as a Jesus-follower can be without suffering. That is an impossibility given the spiritual climate of this world. Yet in no way should we think that all suffering can be justified or excused. Suffering is not inherently good, else we would not be told that in the new heaven and new earth there will be no more pain and suffering. If suffering is somehow inherently good for us, then why would it be left out of God's good heaven? We must examine more thoroughly what is legitimate suffering in our lives right now without implicating God as the cause of our suffering.
This again is where rubber meets the road. When we entertain the notion that there is some inherent value or merit in suffering, that notion easily reinforces false notions about salvation, like involving an offended deity who must be placated because people break his rules or he is compelled by law to punish them. Such teachings perpetuate false perceptions about the role of suffering in our lives and quickly darken our views of God's heart. This is why it is so vital to be more honest about where suffering actually fits into our experience and where it has no validity and is caused by nothing less than abuse and sin from the enemy of our souls.
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and fill up on my part that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the assembly; of which I was made a servant, according to the stewardship of God which was given me toward you, to fulfill the word of God, the mystery which has been hidden for ages and generations. But now it has been revealed to his saints, to whom God was pleased to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:24-27)
This passage has been one that puzzled and confused me for a very long time. I believe that if we don't have a radically new understanding of the nature of God's character of love free of all darkness whatsoever, it remains impossible to unpack such passages without mingling in errors and superstitions we have inherited from bad religion for hundreds of years. Only in the light of the real truth about God as revealed clearly in Jesus can we even begin to make sense of how our suffering might connect in any relevant way to the sufferings that Jesus experienced. Otherwise it all becomes little more than sadistic, incriminating testimony against the goodness of God that contradicts the testimony of Jesus that God is the same in disposition and character as Jesus.
This is where I find the popular notion of merit more insidious. Many have assumed that God operates in a commercial way, dealing in trade using the currency of merit. Roman Catholicism has long taught that merit was accrued on the part of Christ by living a good life, even extending to a supposed reservoir of merit made available by saints who lived such good lives that they accrued excess merit from which sinners might draw from in order to pay down their own debt created by a life of rebellion against God. Merit thus becomes a commodity that can even be manipulated by paying a church to move credits around in the heavenly accounting record books.
Tragically religion in general has long promoted a commercial concept of God for so long that it permeates nearly everything we believe, think or speak of, not only in relation to religion but in every aspect of our lives. It might be understandable that we would think in terms of commerce when it comes to other issues or even social interactions, but sadly our views of how God relates to us are so saturated with belief in commerce as the foundation of all relationships that it is extremely difficult to disentangle ourselves from the implications and consequences of such logic.
Yet the reality is that God is not into commerce at all. Admittedly He must often use commercial speak to communicate with us, but this in no way should be extrapolated to infer that this is His original design or that this is His plan for our life. No, God is not into trading and exchanging credits and debts like we do. Paul made this very clear when he shared the truth about God with the athenians who were trying every way they could imagine to keep the gods satisfied and paid up so their lives would go well.
Paul stood in the middle of the Areopagus, and said, "You men of Athens, I perceive that you are very religious in all things. For as I passed along, and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: 'TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.' What therefore you worship in ignorance, this I announce to you. The God who made the world and all things in it, he, being Lord of heaven and earth, doesn't dwell in temples made with hands, neither is he served by men's hands, as though he needed anything, seeing he himself gives to all life and breath, and all things. He made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the surface of the earth, having determined appointed seasons, and the boundaries of their dwellings, that they should seek the Lord, if perhaps they might reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 'For in him we live, and move, and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, 'For we are also his offspring.' Being then the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold, or silver, or stone, engraved by art and design of man. The times of ignorance therefore God overlooked. But now he commands that all people everywhere should repent. (Acts 17:22-30)
The more I consider this speech by Paul the more clear it is to me that Paul is here contrasting opposing views of God; on the one side the notion that God has to be served, placated, appeased, paid off in some way contrasted sharply with the real truth that Paul was introducing to them – a God who is always on the giving side without any connection to the concept of debts and credits.
By the abundance of your trade you were internally filled with violence, and you sinned; therefore I have cast you as profane from the mountain of God. And I have destroyed you, O covering cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire. (Ezekiel 28:16 NAS95)
God is absolutely not in the business of trading despite what most of us have long supposed. Trading and commerce is the mindset invented by the great apostate and is the very foundation of his kingdom of darkness. It has no place in God's kingdom of light and love. God is only in the giving business, and He doesn't charge for His services so there is no way a debt could ever be created for not paying Him back. God is the exclusive source for everything that exists everywhere, He never experiences lack or a lessening of His resources by giving it away. That may seem crazy at first, but we must come to believe it as this is the way of moving closer to the cure for our sick hearts that remain afraid of our loving Provider and faithful Friend.
Once we begin to come to terms with the reality that God is not a cosmic creditor demanding payback for anything, we move closer to exposing and dispelling the many lies about sin and salvation that have confused us for so long. Sins do not make God feel offended, despite how our feelings might lead us to believe. In Scripture, offenses and debts are the same thing and are the equivalent of sin. God cannot sin and is not in the least altered in His attitude towards us no matter how horribly we treat Him or act out our dysfunction. God is love – all the time. It is not something He just does but is the essence of who He is. Thus God always loves without any expectation or demand of compensation for doing so. The only reason He asks us to show appreciation and give gratitude and praise for His blessings is because by design we find greater joy and fulfillment as we live in an attitude of gratitude. It is for our good that God instructs us to praise Him, not because He needs His sagging ego propped up.
Love is patient and is kind; love doesn't envy. Love doesn't brag, is not proud, doesn't behave itself inappropriately, doesn't seek its own way, is not provoked, takes no account of evil [does not take into account a wrong suffered] (1 Corinthians 13:4-5)
One of the core issues that keeps us locked in sinful thinking about God is the notion of debt collecting and imagining that God takes offense and thus has to be paid off somehow before He is willing to reconcile with us. One thing needs to become crystal clear for us: Sin never changed God's heart or attitude towards us in the least; sin only changes our beliefs about how God feels about us. Ever since we presumed that He relates to us from a commercial mindset, we have lived in fear of recriminations or collection process on the many debts we imagine we have accrued with Him. This sort of thinking and teaching lies at the very foundation of why we remain afraid and resistant to embrace the truth that can set us free from all such fears.
Because lies such as these about God have infected us so deeply, we believe sin has caused God to view us a debtors, so our perceptions of where suffering and merit fit into all this consumes a great deal of attention that is totally wasted and diverts us from the real issues preventing us from be reconciled to God. Our problem is not with how God feels but is entirely in our thinking, feelings and beliefs about Him. Until our dark feelings about God and how He relates to us is fixed, it will be impossible for us to enter into the joy that Jesus longs to give us and be restored into intimate fellowship with His heart.
Let me state this clearly: Suffering in no way should be construed as somehow having any sort of merit we may use to impress or sway God's opinion about us. Neither our suffering nor the sufferings of Christ contain commercial value that can be somehow used to leverage our standing with God. All such thinking is satanic and is no more than doctrines of demons and needs to be discarded as soon as possible. Only the truth as it is in Jesus can set us free from these debilitating lies obstructing our view of God's loveliness and attraction. God is not the ultimate debt-collector as we long have imagined, rather He is a super-generous Father eagerly providing all our needs and seeking to bring all back into a relationship of love, trust and intimacy as we come to discover how good He really is through Jesus.
There is no debt created by sin demanding payment, at least not from God's perspective. Because of this suffering is not any sort of merit currency that potentially satisfies some demands of a heavenly offended deity. All this nonsense originated somewhere else and keeps circulating under the guise of Bible truth. But nothing could be further from the truth, for that line of theology never sets us free but rather perpetuates the very lies that keeps us afraid of God.
He, in the days of his flesh, having offered up prayers and petitions with strong crying and tears to him who was able to save him from death, and having been heard for his godly fear, though he was a Son, yet learned obedience by the things which he suffered. Having been made perfect, he became to all of those who obey him the author of eternal salvation. (Hebrews 5:7-9)
Once again, how we understand this depends on the way we choose to see God in relation to His children. Do we leap to false conclusions about the work of suffering in the life of Jesus as well as in our lives? If we imagine, like so many tend to think, that obedience is simply rule-keeping to keep God happy, and punishment is His way of using fear to keep us in line, then suffering from that perspective can look like punishment or something similar.
There are serious problems with this, not the least being that Jesus was never in disobedience at any time throughout His life, so that doesn't make sense. Secondly, suffering and punishment are not synonymous as we too often think of them as being and thirdly, this text does not suggest that the suffering Jesus experienced came from His Father. It simply states that Jesus learned something that we call obedience, and the suffering He encountered in His life happened while living in our world full of hostility towards love the way God loves. All of that worked somehow to develop or complete a mature character in Jesus (the real meaning of the word perfect when understood correctly).
Just because so many of us use this world's paradigm of reward and punishment to manipulate our children to do what we think is right or be afraid to do otherwise, in no way should be construed to imagine that God deals with His children the same way. Too often we judge God by our standards and methods of right and wrong, good and evil, projecting on Him our ways of manipulation, power and control. Yet we neglect to take into account that our system came from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and that everything from that tree leads to death, not restoration or life.
Seek you Yahweh while he may be found; call you on him while he is near: let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to Yahweh, and he will have mercy on him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says Yahweh. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:6-9)
Oh that we would take hold of this in everything and give God room to teach us the real truth about His ways and His thoughts that are so different from the way we routinely think and the way we treat each other and even ourselves. God is not at all like the arbitrary, vindictive, demanding control freak that we so often make Him out to be. Furthermore God is not a pernicious narcissist demanding his children masochistic behavior to satisfy some need to feel great about Himself. These are the attributes of the archenemy projected onto the reputation of God since the start of the insurrection in heaven. It is these very lies and slander about Him that must be eradicated from our thinking entirely before evil will be fully overcome by the truth about God's goodness.
For those with internet access I would highly recommend reading this short explanation of suffering.
Here she identifies all suffering under two headings: vindictive or consequential. Noticeably absent is any reference to suffering imposed by God. That's because God is not into imposing suffering on anyone as suffering is not part of His original design for life.
A few years ago I was privileged to listen to Fred Bischoff present a series on The Truth and The Lie. He outlined how the two underlying principles compete for our souls and how they have operated throughout history and are seen in prophecy. One point that really stuck with me was his statement that suffering is what happens when the spirit of taking comes in contact with the spirit of selfless giving. God's kingdom is allergic to the spirit of taking. There, all receive freely, trusting in God's generosity and there is no grasping or exploitation of others. All receive in order to be able to give. In the kingdom of darkness people are out for themselves more than others. Whenever these two kingdoms collide the inevitable symptom is suffering. This is why so many 'good' people suffer. Because the kingdom of darkness still prevails in this world, until it is fully defeated by the light of truth, love and freedom there will continue to be suffering.
Jesus came to this earth to bear witness to the truth about God and the spirit of giving that pervades all of heaven. He came to demonstrate how humans may be transformed to participate in with same spirit of selfless love, giving instead of defensively grasping for perceived scarce resources. In trusting fully in His Father's care for Him and always resting in His Father's love and protection, Jesus modeled how humanity was originally designed to live and thrive in joy. In the same way we may participate in His kingdom of love and light, being born again into an entirely new way of thinking, living and relating to others.
Yet this selfless spirit and way of life was so repugnant and reprehensible to the guardians of mainstream religion that they could see no other way to prevent the further undermining of their power and prestige but to inflict shame, suffering and death on Jesus. Thus the ultimate example of selfless, tender love aroused a most violent reaction from selfish hearts fearful of losing what little they had.
The disciples of Christ were also slow to see this contrast, even in their own lives. Repeatedly Jesus called them out on their arguing over who was more important among them and their craving to have power over others even if it meant resorting to violence. These repeated encounters with Jesus regarding their disposition contrasts sharply with their later reflections on how they finally saw Him after contemplating His life and teachings. This can be found most vividly in the writings of John and Peter, two of the troublemakers. John was originally called one the sons of thunder, and Peter repeated outbursts and impulsive suggestions for asserting more power.
After spending a number of days in humble soul-searching and meditating on the life and teachings of Jesus, 120 disciples finally became so convicted and transformed by these truths about love that the Holy Spirit could be poured into their lives, empowering them to boldly testify of the real truth about God. Their perceptions of what truth was and what God was like were opposite from what they had imagined most of their life, and the contrast could not be missed by any who saw them. As a result they realized that suffering was an inevitable result of challenging the darkness of lies about God that Jesus had exposed, yet the glory of the true beauty of God was so compelling for them that their prayers shifted from wanting raw power to incinerate their enemies, to requesting boldness to overcome all fear so they could passionately share the true gospel with any who had not yet seen the beauty of God.
Concerning this salvation, the prophets sought and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching for who or what kind of time the Spirit of Christ, which was in them, pointed to, when he predicted the sufferings of Christ, and the glories that would follow them. To them it was revealed, that not to themselves, but to you, they ministered these things, which now have been announced to you through those who preached the Good News to you by the Holy Spirit sent out from heaven; which things angels desire to look into. (1 Peter 1:10-12)
I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and who will also share in the glory that will be revealed. Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion, but voluntarily, not for dishonest gain, but willingly.
(1 Peter 5:1-2)
Here Peter introduces an important perspective related to the sufferings of Christ, the exposing of a glory that evidently has previously been obfuscated. This is something I believe we all need to understand far more, as it is God's glory that is what defeats the darkness of superstition and misrepresentations about God. The continuing lies are what perpetuate sin in the universe and can only be exposed and neutralized by a fuller revelation of the true glory of the God who is only love.
In a most telling way, the sufferings of Jesus unleashed something so incredible and effective that it will ultimately annihilate all darkness, exposing every lie that has prevented us from knowing and responding to the saving truth about our loving Father. Jesus is the true reflection of the Father's glory, the glory of undimmed, passionate, irrepressible love that defines the essence of God. Peter declares, as does John, that they were witnesses to this glory, so radical and different from anything the world expected in a Messiah, and no amount of darkness or matrix of lies can ever obscure it again.
After these things, I saw another angel coming down out of the sky, having great authority. The earth was illuminated with his glory. (Revelation 18:1)
All who embrace the glorious truth of the pure goodness of God will inevitably encounter suffering as it is unavoidable wherever truth challenges lies. The kingdom of darkness relies on fear as the most effective means by which to enslave and keep people trapped in fear about God. This is how control is exercised and domination maintained. Whenever anyone begins exposing the truth that God is not like what He has been made out to be, and that He does not run His government using our methods, every attempt will be used to arouse fear of suffering and pain in order to silence such threats. This is why suffering is inevitable in the lives of all who share the true gospel, because suffering is the threat by which the enemy seeks to motivate people to stay away from the truth that would set them free.
God never intended that we enjoy suffering. Suffering is not part of God's creation design anymore than death. These are merely results of violating life principles, and the power of darkness is effective when people allow fear to motivate their choices. So long as we give fear more authority in our hearts than truth and love, the kingdom of darkness has a way to manipulate and control us. Only trust and rest in God's love for us can deliver us from fear. Once that is accomplished the enemy no longer has strings to pull to manipulate our choices, for all attachments of sympathy for his insinuations about God have been disconnected from our minds and he loses access to our heart.
I will no more speak much with you, for the prince of the world comes, and he has nothing in me. But that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father commanded me, even so I do.
Yes, suffering is inevitable in the life of a true Christ follower. But that is never because God wants us to suffer but because suffering is simply the result of friction caused by resistance against the power of love. When love and selfishness come into close proximity, the friction caused by their incompatibility produces the heat of suffering. It then is up to us whether we will face suffering with boldness, given us by the Spirit through an assurance of God's presence with us in suffering, or whether we will succumb to doubting God's love and care and trusting in His ways.
Jesus demonstrated that no amount of threats or suffering could sway His trust in His Father's love or arouse desires in Him for revenge against those abusing Him. The cross of Christ, far from the caricatures that religion has put on it insinuating ideas of an offended God, was rather a vivid demonstration highlighting the truth that nothing anyone can ever do to God in the way of suffering can affect or lessen His love for us or alter His willingness to forgive. God will suffer infinitely even to the point of death, rather than resort to intimidation or threats to secure our respect and affection. For in doing so He would deny our opportunity to live in love, for love precludes all such practices. Suffering then, cannot be part of God's agenda because it is merely a symptom of dissonance, and God's kingdom is full of harmony and is safe and harmless.
The violent death of Jesus did reveal another important truth besides the fact that God will never engage in using Satan's methods of control. It demonstrates the lengths to which those trapped in demonic views of God will go in attempts to control God and challenge Him to adopt our paradigms. The cross is the ultimate example of the extent sinners will go in causing suffering to even innocent victims when motivated by the principles of the kingdom of darkness. In essence, the cross both reveals the extent to which God's goodness is willing to absorb our sins against heaven as well as the horrific levels of depravity and callousness to which intelligent beings will be taken when they choose to reject God's principles of love, truth and freedom.
Suffering is what happens when those choosing love, truth and freedom are resisted by those who demand that right can never win by sticking to these principles alone. When false concepts of God infect the soul, sooner or later such ones will feel compelled to impose their views on others even if that means inflicting suffering to change their minds. Because they cling to lies that God is willing to impose suffering to intimidate and coerce, they feel they must do the same in God's name even in order to suppress rebellion. And anyone unwilling to adopt the methods of good and evil, reward and punishment will be considered in rebellion and deserving of punishment. Any who teach that God has no darkness at all in Him will be viewed as heretics and in need of reform.
Today we are watching the world move increasingly toward a sharp polarization between those who embrace one side or the other on this issue. God must allow evil to again fully mature and expose itself as untenable and ugly and destructive, just as it did at the cross. Not until it is explicitly clear to every being in the universe including on this planet, can the deceptive power of sin be neutralized. This means that those who embrace the real truth that God is not complicit in any way in the infliction of suffering on His children will be increasingly viewed as dangerous and undermining the moral fabric of society and must suffer accordingly. Yet those who cling to the truth as it is in Jesus, though they will certainly suffer by persecution at the hands of others who feel compelled to rescue them from God's sure punishments for believing falsehoods, can know that the words of Jesus are reliable and that resting in God's love is the only path to real life.
Brother will deliver up brother to death, and the father his child. Children will rise up against parents, and cause them to be put to death. You will be hated by all men for my name's sake, but he who endures to the end will be saved. But when they persecute you in this city, flee into the next, for most certainly I tell you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel, until the Son of Man has come.
A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his lord. It is enough for the disciple that he be like his teacher, and the servant like his lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more those of his household! Therefore don't be afraid of them, for there is nothing covered that will not be revealed; and hidden that will not be known. (Matthew 10:21-26)
If the world hates you, you know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. But because you are not of the world, since I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: 'A servant is not greater than his lord.' If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will keep yours also. But all these things will they do to you for my name's sake, because they don't know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have had sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates me, hates my Father also. If I hadn't done among them the works which no one else did, they wouldn't have had sin. But now have they seen and also hated both me and my Father. But this happened so that the word may be fulfilled which was written in their law, 'They hated me without a cause.' (John 15:18-25)
Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. But you remain in the things which you have learned and have been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them.
(2 Timothy 3:12-14)
As a followup on this I want to explore more carefully the issue of merit and the many implications and complications that word has brought with it. As with many religious terms, there are widely differing definitions heavily dependent on what we think God is like and the methods He uses to relate to us.