Perfect Through Suffering

Suffering is not meaningless, but redemptive.

Guest Contributor / 4.12.22

This article is by Michael Cooper:

In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. (Heb 2:10)

In Hebrews we read that God the Father has “perfected” Jesus through suffering. Now, we know that if Jesus was without sin, he had no need of being “perfected” in the moral sense. Yet the author of Hebrews asserts that it was “fitting” that Jesus, “the author of our salvation,” should be “perfected” through suffering. While suffering did nothing to purify Jesus morally, God the Father, according to Hebrews, deemed it fitting that Christ and his saving work should be perfected or “completed” through suffering. The claim, not just of Hebrews, but throughout the scriptures, is plain: Our very salvation is made complete, in God’s plan, through suffering.

So what does this tell us about suffering and about God? Where is God in our suffering?

We would all like not to suffer, yet we have all known people who seem not yet to have suffered in this world. While they may be very kind and sweet, they are somehow not “complete.” They are not in touch with the deepest strata of what life in this world actually is. Can we imagine any of the truly great works of literature or of any of the arts being created without suffering? Would we have any of Faulkner or Flannery O’Connor or Van Gogh or T.S. Eliot without suffering? We might have “Happy Days” reruns and Thomas Kinkade prints, but that would be about it. And the same could be said, a million times over, for marriage. There are no great marriages, the ones built on real grace and love and forgiveness, that have not been “completed” through suffering. It might be the suffering of shared tragedy, or the suffering of two sinners living under the same roof for an extended period of time. But a marriage that hasn’t seen suffering is a reed blowing in the wind.

Yet Jesus did not seek out or desire suffering. In fact, he prayed in anguish, with tears of blood, that the cup of suffering would pass from him. But at the same time, he submitted himself in love to it fully. So it is not wrong or “unspiritual” to seek, and pray earnestly, to be spared suffering. Nor does suffering earn us salvation, otherwise, suffering would only produce self-righteousness and the peculiar pride of asceticism. Jesus was not an ascetic, because he prayed not to suffer. And yet he did suffer, willingly and from love. Hebrews tells us that this suffering, in and though and because of love, completed, or “perfected,” the redemptive, saving work of Jesus.

But what does this “perfecting” of Jesus, through suffering, mean for us? It means that we can be confident that suffering, even suffering of the most horrific sort, it not beyond God’s redemptive love. We can know that suffering, our suffering, and the suffering of those we love, has and will be redeemed by God. Suffering is not meaningless. The World — capital “W” — always throws up suffering as the trump card argument against God, a proof text of pain. Either He is not there, or He doesn’t care. But the apostle Paul, in the midst of suffering his own “thorn in the flesh,” which he called an “emissary of Satan,” was assured that God was present even in that suffering, manifesting His strength in weakness.

So suffering has deep meaning for the Christian, because God and His love is always there, in our weakness, in the most powerful way. In 2 Timothy, Chapter 1, Paul writes to Timothy of his imprisonment for the sake of the gospel:

Do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life — not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.

Paul invites Timothy to suffer, not to earn his salvation, but to suffer for the gospel of God that has given us life and peace “not because of anything we have done.” We look forward to that day when all suffering will end, when every tear will be dried and our joy will be untainted. But even now, in the midst of suffering, Hebrews tells us that no suffering is beyond the God who loves us, and because of love suffered death, even death on the cross.

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