Suffering for Ourselves vs. Suffering for Others (Part 2)

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

There is also another problem in our distinguishing between others and ourselves. As Western minds, we tend to separate spiritual things from physical things. We see God is a big, out-there, kind of thing (even Evangelicals who totally believe that God is a friend and always close). In our minds, we have a uncross-able chasm between us and God. As Orthodox Christians, we do not see this chasm. We see a large part of Christ’s work on earth as a raising of human beings, not to the level of God but to the level of being “like” God (which, if we remember back, was what God said about us when He made us). This is one reason why a Protestant would be very confused in an Orthodox service: he or she would see the pictures of the saints, hear the prayers that include the Virgin Mary, and believe that we have raised human beings to God-status. The Orthodox would respond to this accusation by arguing that Protestants have lowered human beings and this view of Christians as being “like” God (not in nature or essence but in character and likeness) raises them up to the level that Jesus Christ came to actualize. Once redeemed Christians have been raised up to their proper place, it is clear to see that there is no distinguishing between the physical and the spiritual. Everything is spiritual.

This connects to our view of suffering because perhaps we think that when we are suffering, we should fight back because we are “suffering for being Christians” as the Christians in Paul’s letter were. However, we fail to recognize that since everything is spiritual, our suffering, even if not specifically for Christ (as long as it is not suffering we have inflicted on ourselves by immorality – that is something different), is still conforming us into the image of Jesus Christ. We are still called to endure it with patience. I am of course not saying that a woman who faces rape should just let it happen or that someone faced with a violent death should not run or ask for their life, but I am saying that our view of suffering needs some adjusting. All suffering, just or unjust, brings us closer to our purpose for life – to become like God in character and likeness.

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