The meaning of Christian suffering

“The persecution and genocide of Christians across the world is worse today “than at any time in history,” and Western governments are failing to stop it, a report from a Catholic organization said.

The study by Aid to the Church in Need said the treatment of Christians has worsened substantially in the past two years compared with the two years prior, and has grown more violent than any other period in modern times.  

“Not only are Christians more persecuted than any other faith group, but ever-increasing numbers are experiencing the very worst forms of persecution,” the report said.

The report examined the plight of Christians in China, Egypt, Eritrea, India, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria and Turkey over the period lasting from 2015 until 2017. The research showed that in that time, Christians suffered crimes against humanity, and some were hanged or crucified. The report found that Saudi Arabia was the only country where the situation for Christians did not get worse, and that was only because the situation couldn’t get any worse than it already was.” (Nesweek, Febr. 16, 2019)

For a long time I read the reports of this kind and strive to grasp with this terrible situation.

“It is our destiny to bear the Cross,” said Serbian poet Njegos. 

When we Christians make the sign of the Cross, when we kiss it and when we bow down before it, we affirm that we dedicate ourselves to the cross and that we accept our cross-bearing designation as Christians. This means that we accept all the suffering that comes upon us, not only the suffering that we ourselves have chosen but also that which God has chosen for us. 

We do not know its beginning, and we cannot discern its end. The vertical bar of the cross connects our suffering with heaven to which it elevates us. 

“Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” (Mark 8:34) says Christ. This is truly a unique declaration, never heard of before Christ or even after Him. All the other “leaders” promise heaven on earth, yet bring nothing but terror and suffering. Our Lord Jesus Christ calls us to follow Him and His cross. We must know and we must count on the fact that “all who desire to live godly in Jesus Christ will suffer persecution.” (2 Timothy 3:12) We cannot reconcile our designation for suffering and our desire for a good life. We must decide which kingdom we choose. We cannot serve both God and mammon. 

There are many innocent sufferers. The suffering of innocents is the only kind of suffering that is unto our salvation. “For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God.” (1 Peter 2:20) Blessed are those who suffer for righteousness sake for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10)

Christ commands Ananias, a Christian, to go and help Saul of Tarsus, well known persecutor of Christians before he met Christ on his way to Damascus, to protect him and restore his eyesight. Ananias protests, knowing how much evil Saul brought upon his Christian brethren. However, the Lord repeats His command and says, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.” (Acts 9:15-16) And sure enough, Saul the persecutor of Christians became Paul the sufferer for Christ. We can see from his confessions to his Christian brethren the suffering he had to endure to redeem himself. Out of all the torments he endured he was most afflicted by a certain reserve his fellow Christians bred towards him, and the fact that they questioned his apostolate. It is for this reason that he publicly talks about his suffering, his trials and tribulations. They are proof of the legitimacy of his cross-bearing affiliation to Christianity. He invokes his suffering as his witness: “I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews I received forty stripes minus one, Three times I was beaten with rods; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil in sleeplessness often, in hunger and in thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness…. Besides the other things, what comes upon me daily; my deep concern for all the churches.” (2 Corinthians 11:23-28) “God… knows that I am not lying.” (2 Corinthians 11:31) he concludes. 

Christians take their suffering with joy, not as something they have been doomed to suffer, or as a blow fate has dealt them, but rather as something that is implied in their life.

“Let none of you suffer as a murderer, as a thief, an evildoer or as a busybody in other people’s matters. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter.” (1 Peter 4:15-16) “For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil,” (1 Peter 3:17) says St. Peter the apostle. 

Suffering is inevitable if we are to be Christians and live as Christians. We have been baptized in Christ’s name and we have accepted His Cross. We have been clothed in Christ at the time of our baptism and so we are meant to walk the path of suffering with Him. He suffered for us and gave us an example to follow. “For to you has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” (Philippians 1:29)

Any Christian can, as do many false Christians, find a way to settle his accounts with the evil of this world at the cost of his soul – but in doing so, he is no longer a Christian. A true Christian sees the sign of God’s mercy in his own suffering. The lawyers of Israel were unable to argue the words of the holy apostles in any other way than by force. “When they had beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus and let them go. So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.” (Acts 5:40-41)

“May God never give us a burden that we cannot bear.” It is true – God never allows His chosen to suffer more than they are able to bear. Apostle Paul gives encouragement to the Christians of Corinth and says: “God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)

God gives strength and endurance to those who suffer. The Lord is refuge to the poor man, refuge in his affliction, sings David in his psalms. (Psalm 9:9) He will not abandon those that seek Him. (Psalm 9:10) The Lord takes the burden of the sufferer and gives him strength. He does not allow his foot to stumble. (Psalm 55:22)

For David says concerning Him: ‘I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for he is at my right hand, that I may not be shaken.’” (Acts 2:25)

We become stronger when we suffer. We prove our worth through suffering. Heroes emerge only after enduring hardship. The worth and the truthfulness of our faith is tested through the fire of suffering. “Each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss, but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” (1 Corinthians 3:13-15)

God Himself guarantees that our suffering will redeem us. We suffer with Christ, and we are glorified with Him (Romans 8:17) Our suffering has meaning. We know the reasons for our suffering and so we are not ashamed of it, but proud. Like apostle Paul, we, too, know in whom we have believed (2 Timothy 2:12) and whom we follow. “For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.” (1Timothy 4:10) To those who are faithful to Him to their death, the Lord will give the crown of life. (Revelation 2:10)