Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Suffering which perfects?

The passage in Hebrews which speaks of Jesus "having been perfected by suffering" (Heb 2:10) has always been somewhat problematic... "Why is it that Jesus needed to be made perfect in the first place?" was one question it brought to mind. Yet I wonder whether that is the question the author seeks to address in this passage.

In popular thought suffering is rarely regarded as something worth embracing, or of intrinsic value. Popular Western thought regards suffering as something to be avoided at all costs, viewing it as of little innate value. We justify therapeutic cloning, stem cell research, and many other technological advances on the basis that they reduce suffering. What then of the One of whom it is said that the author of salvation as perfected through suffering?

Clearly suffering is not something which is alien to the character of God. Hebrews indicates that Jesus suffered as we do, yet was in no way diminished by that suffering. On the contrary, it indicates that his suffering was an essential aspect of his work of salvation. Through his suffering came salvation for us all. By his suffering we are redeemed, opened to the life of God through His Spirit. This is not to suggest that all suffering is redemptive, nor that all suffering should be embraced. Neither is it to indicate that we ignore the possibility of reducing suffering. Rather, here we are invited to embrace the possibility of redemptive suffering... the knowledge that some of life's hardest lessons - emerging from our deepest suffering - bring us something of great value.

I have read numerous autobiographies in which the writer has outlined a moment of deep grief in their life which has helped them to refocus and appreciate important aspects of life that were lost. Setting aside the penchant towards hagiography, there is truth in the fact that suffering sometimes brings us to face the deeper questions of life and discover something of the eternal once again.

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