Suffering for Ourselves vs. Suffering for Others (Part 1)

Brethren, recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to abuse and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated.  For you had compassion on the prisoners, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.  Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.  For you have need of endurance, so that you may do the will of God and receive what is promised.  “For yet a little while, and the coming one shall come and shall not tarry; but my righteous one shall live by faith.”

– St. Paul, Letter to the Hebrews 10:32-38

When I read this epistle reading for the day, I was struck by Paul’s words about how the Christians joyfully accepted the plundering of their property. That idea is so far from our thinking and I think that it has something to do with our perspective. Perhaps it is our Western mind that believes in Occam’s Razor, the idea that the most simple explanation of things is usually right. This belief makes our minds join together ideas into one (for efficiency) that maybe shouldn’t be so joined. We have trouble distinguishing between someone plundering our things and someone plundering another’s things. At least I feel that way. If we are supposed to fight for the oppressed (which we clearly are), why would we not fight for ourselves when we are oppressed?

The problem is that 2 different principles are at work when we think about ourselves vs. others. When we are commanded to fight for the oppressed, it is because that is how our love for the world takes action. It is not loving to sit by while innocents are plundered, killed, raped, or starved. We MUST help, as our good and loving God helps us. When we allow ourselves to be plundered, killed, or starved, we are embracing suffering as Christ embraced it. We are also showing the world that this world is not all there is and that we are looking towards something better. But we can never embrace suffering for someone else. We are commanded to treat others better than ourselves, loving them more than we love our own self. This is why we have 2 principles at work – one is our view of ourselves as less and seeing suffering as a way to enter into the kingdom of God, and the other is our passionate love for the world and a desire to help the helpless as our Lord Jesus did.

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