In the Old Testament, faithful believers seemed shocked when suffering came their way. They expected God to reward their faithfulness with prosperity and comfort. But the New Testament shows a remarkable change. As Peter advised suffering Christians, “This suffering is all part of the work God has given you. Christ who suffered for you, is your example. Follow in his steps”(1 Peter 2:21 LB).
Other passages go further, using phrases I will not attempt to explain. Paul speaks of “sharing in his [Christ’s] sufferings” and says he hopes to “fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regards to Christ’s afflictions.”
Harry Boer, a Chaplain during World War II, spent the final days of that war among marines in the Pacific Theater. “The Second division saw much action, with great losses,” he writes. “Yet I never met an enlisted man or an officer who doubted for a moment the outcome of the war. Nor did I ever meet a marine who asked why, if victory was so sure, we couldn’t have it immediately. It was just a question of slogging through till the enemy gave up.”
According to Paul, at the cross Christ triumphed over the cosmic powers–defeating them not with power but self-giving love. The cross of Christ may have assured the final outcome, but battles remain for us to fight. Significantly, Paul prayed “to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in this sufferings”–embracing both the agony and the ecstasy of Christ’s life on earth(Philippians 3:10)
We will never know, in this life, the full significance of our actions here, for much takes place invisible to us. When a pastor in an oppressive country goes to prison for his peaceful protest, when a social worker moves into an urban ghetto, when a couple refuses to give up on a difficult marriage, when a parent waits with undying hope and forgiveness for the return of an estranged child, when a young professional resists mounting temptations toward wealth and success–in all these sufferings, large and small, there is the assurance of a deeper level of meaning, of a sharing in Christ’s own redemptive victory