This excerpt about the meaning of suffering comes from Jeremy R. Treat’s reflection on Good Friday, collected in Suffering & Glory: Meditations for Holy Week and Easter.
Many of us instinctively feel that if we are faithful to Jesus, then life will go well for us. We will find comfort, success, and maybe even wealth. But that’s the logic of the American dream, not the gospel. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “A king who dies on the cross must be the king of a rather strange kingdom.” A strange kingdom indeed. And the king who was glorified on the cross advances his kingdom by calling his followers to take up their own crosses.
Followers of Jesus are bound for glory. But what is true for Christ is true for those who are “in Christ”: Glory comes through suffering. Paul says that, as coheirs with Christ, “we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Rom 8:17).
Our world operates according to the logic that weakness and power are opposites. But the cross turns this concept on its head. Christ said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). It’s not that God’s power is made perfect despite our weakness or after we have suffered. No, his power is made perfect in our weakness.
God certainly can and does display his power through healing and intervention. But it is through weakness that we learn to cling to God’s strength. And the “weakness” that Paul speaks of does not refer to sinfulness but to the adversities of ordinary life. In the difficulty of transition, God is our constant. In the frailness of old age, God is our strength. In the darkness of depression, God is our hope. God is not waiting for us on the other side of suffering; he meets us in our suffering.
This doesn’t make suffering easy, but it does make it meaningful. God is with us in our suffering, he transforms us through our suffering, and one day he will put an end to our suffering. That is why Paul said, “I can do all things through [Christ] who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13). He didn’t say this from an exercise room or on a basketball court. He said it from a prison. A bodybuilder may be able to lift a car, but one who is strong in Christ is even stronger, for she can rejoice in suffering. Why? Because our weakness is a showcase for the glory of God’s strength.
Suffering & Glory: Meditations for Holy Week and Easter is available now from Lexham Press.