This article was originally published in the Summer ’06 issue of Revisions, Has American Culture Killed Christ?
While recently browsing Xangas, MySpaces, Instant Messenger profiles, and all the other luxuries we have today that allow us to better stalk our friends, a sentence caught my eye. It was a sentence professing love, or devotion of some sort, something a girl might say to a guy in a sappy Korean drama. It read along the lines of, “I don’t mind suffering as long as he is happy.” My first reaction wasn’t to throw up. (I promise.) Rather, it was to question the nature of this suffering, somewhat ambiguously stated. After some thought, I determined that the type of suffering that the girl was referring to is a type most of us can deal with. I call it passive suffering. This type of suffering involves no effort: mainly, you just sit around depressed, accepting the bad things that happen to you.
Now the life of a Christian involves suffering. Paul makes it clear that suffering and the Christian life are inseparable. We are to “suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him” (Rom. 8:17, NASB). Part of having a relationship with God means going through tribulations and suffering for Him. Oftentimes, however, we confuse this type of suffering with passive suffering. For instance, many of us who believe in a true and living God may claim that we are willing to give up our lives for Him. But what does this mean? When we think of giving up our lives, of suffering for Him (or anyone else for that matter), we often just think of accepting the suffering, accepting death.
And indeed, such a sacrifice cannot be downplayed. John himself writes that “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13, NASB). The issue here, however, is not whether we sacrifice our lives, but the manner in which we do so. When we suffer, we should be doing it in a proactive way. I do not mean that we should seek suffering, but rather that the suffering we do encounter should be the result of efforts to further the kingdom of God. Giving up our lives means so much more than just letting it go – it means taking that life and that will and that ability to work or minister and using it to please God.
If you really loved someone, you would not be content with just sitting around and waiting to suffer for him. You would do everything in your power to make him happy, to take a more proactive approach than just wallowing in your own self-pity. The aforementioned girl is not suffering for someone else. She’s suffering because she has not gotten what she wanted from a certain relationship, yet she claims to be content.
Jesus suffered after preaching to the Jews and glorifying God. He did not sit around and wait for the suffering he knew would eventually come. Instead, He was very active in the thirty-three years he had on earth. This is the type of suffering we should be facing, the type of suffering we should be rejoicing in. Is not the suffering of a man working to provide for his family more wholesome than that of a man content to suffer on the street doing nothing?
Our love for God should therefore extend far beyond our passive acceptance of suffering, although acceptance of this suffering is necessary. We are to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. We are to follow Him; suffering may come as a result of that decision, but it should never replace it. Hence, let us not say that “I don’t mind suffering as long as he is happy,” but rather “I will seek to make him happy regardless of the suffering I encounter.”