Sunday, April 1, 2012

A Life That Tells the Story

I've written a lot about suffering in the past, largely because it has been an unavoidable theme in my life. I've written about my father's battle with cancer and how I saw God use suffering to conform him more into the image of Jesus. I've written about my own suffering as a result of my father's illness, and how God used it to lead me to deeper joy than I ever imagined. Since starting seminary, I've written about how this experience (of greater joy and richer life through suffering) is actually a common one for Christians, because they've been united to Jesus Christ. Jesus suffered for us and out of his death came new life-- a life of victory made possible only because of the suffering that preceded it-- a resurrection power that defeated death itself. I've been learning that Christians don't just "make the most of suffering" because they have a positive outlook, but that Christians are actually one with Jesus and so their lives begin to tell the story of His life-- of His suffering and death--  and the resurrection that follows it. 

Today I came into contact with the story of Jesus on display in another. I visited a man who has very advanced MS. He's bedridden and totally dependent on others for the smallest things. Seeing him there in his hospital bed (his permanent home) I was unable to avoid the weight of his suffering. A brilliant musician, lawyer, and economist, he is now confined to a range of motion that allows him to turn a radio switch on and off. He can't use his gifts the way he once could; he can't engage socially the way he would still like; he can't even speak all the words he knows. His mind is still active, but his body has decayed. I felt speechless in the presence of such a tragedy. 

As I visited with this man, his mother told me how he just published his second book of poetry. She played for me a recording of two hymns he has written in the last few years. In other words, she showed me how he has been using his time in a bed all day. As I listened to the sweeping strokes of the piano playing his songs of praise to God, I wept. Here I was in the presence of a man suffering tragic and chronic injustice, listening to his response to it. His soul, hard-pressed on every side, has made music. His response to suffering has been to bless God, not curse Him. Out of his brokenness, beauty has been revealed; a beauty that is overwhelming in its power because of the place of sorrow from which it sprung. 

This is the life of Christ made present, in the flesh, in of one of His own. Jesus, who suffered the ultimate injustice-- betrayal, rejection, and even physical torture inflicted by those He came to serve-- responded by blessing both God and others. He took the curse upon Himself and bore our sins in his very body, only to rise victorious three days later. This man, who belongs to Christ, is living a life victorious over the curse that still afflicts him. There is a power, a purpose, a hope, at work within him that gives him a reason to bless God and others even in the face of extreme suffering. There is a reality-- a victory, a life-- that is his, and it outweighs any current disease, decay, or death. That reality is Jesus Christ. 

"But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh...
 
...knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal."

2 Cor. 4:7-18 

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