Friday, December 20, 2002


Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.
-- Colossians 1:24 NIV

From Brennan Manning's Ruthless Trust: The Ragamuffin's Path to God:
When the shadow of Jesus' cross falls across our lives in the form of failure, rejection, abandonment, betrayal, unemployment, lonliness, depression, the loss of a loved one; when we are deaf to everything but the shriek of our own pain; when the world around us suddenly seems a hostile, menacing place-- at those times we may cry out in anguish, "How could a loving God permit this to happen?" At such moments the seeds of distrust are sown. It requires heroic courage to trust in the love of God no matter what happens to us.
I don't know what that trust looks like. I hope I can find it.

Paul spoke of himself as filling up what was lacking in the sufferings of Christ. God suffered as Jesus of Nazareth, and in our pain, the Incarnate God suffers as us. As Manning has pointed out before, Jesus could not suffer as a mother, or an old man. In coming to live with and in us, the indwelling Christ learns the shattering rhythms of addiction and the terror of abused children. Christ is no stranger to fear and to need, and he experiences all the variations and permutations through our ongoing lives, which he graces with his presence.

If in me, like Paul, God is filling up what is lacking, what does it mean for my present sufferings, be it a crushed body, alienation, fear, or anything else? Jesus is no stranger to any of these things, but what if he is experiencing them in a new way in me? What kind of purpose can be found?

The Christ in me wills to face suffering with a "face set like flint." This in no way means keeping a stiff upper lip, standing stoicly against the dark. It means refusing to turn away. For so many of us, suffering is a thing to be avoided, and if that fails, to put behind us as quickly as possible.

In the face of deep human suffering, our first instincts seem to be to avoid responsibility, and to interpose as much distance as possible. Pain is awkward, confusing. It messes up one's theology and general outlook, especially those based upon blind optimism.

We don't like to feel awkward and helpless; and when we watch people suffer, we know for whom the bell tolls: if something dreadful can happen to my neighbor, I could be next.

The only thing keeping any of us from catastrophe is the interest (or disinterest) of a capricious, powerless, or merely non-existant deity.

No, say those of us who know the Lord Jesus. How do we ask the world to trust that answer?