Mark 14: 35-36
35Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. 36“Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will (NIV).”
Romans 5: 1-5
1Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us (NIV).
Is there a time when God chooses not to deliver us from suffering? I don’t like to think that this is true, but the Bible gives us many examples of God calling his people to suffer for God’s will to be done. One of Jesus’ most powerful and disturbing teachings is his challenge to all disciples to “pick up your cross daily and come follow me.” Furthermore, Stephen was stoned for sharing Christ, tradition tells us that Peter was crucified upside down for his faith, and early history is littered with stories of Christian believers suffering for their faith.
But is suffering something God desires or is it a consequence of the world’s fall from grace? I believe it is the latter. There was order and peace (stability, creativity, satisfaction, and love in every phase of life) in Eden until Eve and Adam caved in to the temptation to run things on their own apart from God. Ever since, our relationships with God, each other, and creation have suffered. The original design for life ordered by God’s love did not include suffering, and Revelation’s vision of Jesus restoring peace to creation includes the absence of pain, death, and sorrow (Revelation 21).
But we do suffer, sometimes as a consequence of our own sins, sometimes as a consequence of the sins of others, sometimes as a consequence of sins committed by generations preceding us. So given that suffering is not inherently good, why is it that God sometimes asks us to suffer on his mission, and why is it expected that we will suffer as we follow Jesus? Simply, there are two kinds of suffering in this broken world, consequential suffering and redemptive suffering. Consequential suffering is the logical consequence of sin. Redemptive suffering occurs when we oppose sin and evil in the world and those aligned with evil strike against us even as God uses our suffering for the advance of God’s Kingdom.
God did not deliver Jesus from the suffering of crucifixion because to do so would have left the consequences of human sin upon us, left us without hope of redemption, and separated from God eternally. And since we are the Church, the representatives and servants of God’s Kingdom, sent into the world to help Jesus restore it to God, we too must oppose evil with good, expect suffering as evil fights back, and expect God to use our efforts to advance the Kingdom. If we must suffer, thank God we do not suffer in vain! The resurrection power of Jesus can take our suffering and produce the fruit of the Kingdom when we are yielded to God’s will.
Where is God calling us to resist evil and sin? Are we willing to suffer to advance the Kingdom?