Monday, July 19, 2010

Meaning in Suffering

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. Col 1:24
We got a good homily on suffering  on Sunday morning. The second reading came from Colossians 1. It was interesting because we had just read a story of St Kateri Tekakwitha who was beating herself bloody as a way of becoming holy. Of course there are many saints who did this. It is hard for us to understand. But suffering is that way. It is offensive to us. It is offensive to God too. So becoming holy does not make us desire suffering. It makes us desire other things more than avoiding suffering.

As a protestant the hard thing to understand was why we suffer at all. Our suffering was not part of the salvation story. Sure we accepted on faith that there was some reason for it but the reasons we could think of were not very strong. Sure one could imagine a public suffering might inspire people. But so much suffering was private and really not well understood by anyone. Yes, you would know your faith was real if it held up under suffering. But that seemed weak too. People who had no doubts about the reality of their faith suffered terribly. Just believe it does good because God allows it to happen. But do not believe it has any direct salvific effect.

The strange part is we kind of did believe that. I know when somebody died a horrible death we would often notice some very good spiritual fruit coming into the lives of those around that situation. We didn't have theological categories to explain it but pastors were aware of this reality.

So while the protestant error seems to correct itself by stealth in some cases there are others where it has grown into a larger heresy. That is the thinking that suffering is evil and avoiding suffering becomes the ultimate good. This leads to sentimentalism. If an all male priesthood causes some women to suffer because they can't be ordained then we need to change that doctrine. If the church's teaching on homosexuality causes suffering for same-sex attracted individuals then it has to change. Today we even find suffering being used as a justification for murder and/or suicide. Because protestants cannot explain why suffering has meaning many more people find these sentimental arguments convincing.

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