Cost Became Swallowed Up in Privilege

In her book Be Still My Soul, Nancy Guthrie relates a story from early in her marriage. She and her husband bought a young evergreen to plant in their front yard. They dug a hole, slid it in and then packed dirt around it. That night a strong wind uprooted the tree, so they repeated the process the next day. Night after night the tree fell over, until one day her father visited, slid the tree back into the hole, packed dirt all around it, and then found a long, strong stake. He drove the stake deep into the ground and tethered the tree to it. That night the strong pole held up the weak tree.

She tells the story as illustration of every person’s plight in suffering. When the winds of pain and heartache come along, how will I make it? How will I withstand? Only by being tethered to Jesus. While the Bible shows that suffering wasn’t part of God’s original plan (Gen. 1) and it deeply saddens him (John 11:35), it also argues that God wants to use the evil of suffering for our own good. (Rom. 8:28).

What good can come from suffering? We can experience a special nearness and intimacy with Christ. The apostle Peter (who suffered imprisonment, beatings, and eventually death for his faith) writes,

But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. (1 Peter 4:13-14 ESV)

Peter is saying something remarkable: when we suffer we adhere so closely to Christ that it is as if we share in his sufferings. And since we share his suffering, we grow confident we will share his glory; as we suffer God’s Spirit helps us to see that glory more clearly.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes,

Christ transfigures the moment of greatest suffering for his followers through the indescribable certainty of his nearness and communion.

This is amazing news for Christians. Our suffering does not defeat us, or destroy us in the end. In the end our suffering is the servant of our own joy. Why? Because through it Christ draws near. Bonhoeffer writes,

Suffering is distance from God. That is why someone who is in communion with God cannot suffer. … Indeed suffering remains distance from God, but in community with the suffering of Jesus Christ, suffering is overcome by suffering. Communion with God is granted precisely in suffering.

Peter and Bonhoeffer agree: God draws near to us in suffering. Like the strong pole tethered to the weak tree, in suffering we are tethered to Christ himself. In fact, as we cling to Christ more dearly, we hold on to the things of this life less closely. Trusting Christ in suffering, transforms us so that we trust in this world less.

One profound example of this comes from the autobiography of Dr. Helen Roseveare, a Christian doctor who gave up wealth and prestige to serve the medical needs of people in central Africa. One night she was captured by rebels from the Congo for her faith. She was tortured and raped. She began wonder at the silence she felt from God. She thought “It is too much to pay!” She writes about asking God “why, why?”

And then Christ drew near. She writes,

In the dark loneliness he met with me. He was right there, a great wonderful almighty God. His love enveloped me. Suddenly the “Why?” dropped away from me, and an unbelievable peace flowed in, even in the midst of the wickedness. And he breathed a word into my troubled mind: the word privilege.  

 “These are not your sufferings; they are not beating you. These are my sufferings: all I ask of you is the loan of your body.” 

For twenty years, anything I needed I had asked of God and he had provided. Now, this night, the Almighty had stooped to ask of me something that he condescended to appear to need, and he offered me the privilege of responding. He wanted my body, in which to love and through which to love these very rebel soldiers in the height of their wickedness. It was inconceivable, yet true. He offered me the inestimable privilege of sharing him in some little measure at least, in the edge of the fellowship of his suffering. And it was all privilege. 

For that night, cost became swallowed up in privilege.

In our suffering cost becomes swallowed up in the privilege of experiencing Christ’s joyous presence today and growing assured of sharing his future glory tomorrow.

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