Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Vicarious Suffering?

The title would usually turn our thoughts to Christ himself. 'Vicarious' coming from the Latin actually means a substitute and that certainly turns our thoughts Christ-wards.

However, I wasn't thinking about Christ's vicarious suffering but ours. I was reading 2 Corinthians earlier this morning and was taken again with the boldness of Paul's statements. He begins by saying that we can pass on to others what we have learned of God in times of trial and suffering. He says that where 'the sufferings of Christ' abound in us, so does the comfort or encouragement. So far that is fine and we know that God wastes nothing so every trial 'traced upon our dial' as the old hymn says can be a source of blessing to ourselves and to others.

It is the next section that stops me in my tracks. He says 'Now if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effective for enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer. Or if we are comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation.' 2Cor 1:6. If we take a short cut in that sentence you may see how I am thinking... "if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation". Or even shorter, 'if we.. it is for you'.

That is not 'vicarious' in the same way that Christ's suffering was vicarious but there are definite points of contact. Paul was conscious, as we read elsewhere, that some of his suffering was for others; I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church, Col 1:24. This suffering was 'for the sake of His body', it was not 'instead' of, as Christ's vicarious suffering was, but it surely linked to the well being of others.

Now Paul was an apostle, and I am not, and one of the essential elements of apostleship is suffering but I got to wondering about just how much of our suffering is '...for you'? We can be so 'ego-centric' that we conclude that all our trials are 'for our own sake', perhaps sometimes they are not. Suppose the trial that God is taking you through is NOT for you but for me? Suppose the trial that God is taking me through is not for me, but is for you... where would that leads my thoughts.

The family of God, the body of Christ is a mysterious and invisible reality. If we are baptised by one Spirit into one body we are joined together in him and we are 'in this together'. Charles Spurgeon used to encourage his students to be 'often at the death bed' of the saints. He added it is a wonderful thing to 'see silver hairs adorned by golden graces'. It is not just true of death-beds. It is a source of powerful encouragement when I see the 'given grace' which enables fellow saints to patiently persevere.

So 'hang in there' my brother/sister. I need to see God's grace at work in you. The time may come when my remembrance of your suffering will be just the thing I need as part of God's grace to get me through mine.

1 comment:

KingJimmy said...

Thank you for this precious devotional thought. Indeed, suffering is my companion lately, and God does work death in us so He might work life in others. As somebody said on the Sermon Index board, suffering is God's way of squeezing the oil out of an olive. But, how precious is the oil that does come out!