The Power of Suffering

Rick Kennedy

“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings.”

Phil 3:10

The deepest truth in Christianity is that power and suffering go together because they came together in Jesus. Lots of folk want Christianity to be about making the world a better place—and Christians should help to make the world a better place. Lots of folk want Christianity to empower people to be all that each can be—and Christianity does empower in this way. Lots of folk want Christianity to be about love, light, and laughter—and it is. Fact is, though, Christianity, at its center, is first about Jesus humbling the divine self to the cross and us being called to fellowship at his suffering. It is right and good that we wear a Roman instrument of execution and torture around our necks.

Christianity is an unpleasant religion. In Matthew 10, Jesus sends us into the world with Good News and tells us not to fear, but then he says the message will not bring peace on earth. A sword will divide fathers from sons, mothers from daughters, and mothers-in-law from daughters-in-law. We want the Good News to promote happiness. We want the power of the resurrection without the weakness, submission, and humiliation of the cross. “He who does not take his cross and follow me,” Jesus says, “is not worthy of me.”

What is the power of his resurrection? Hope, yes; but first, now, at best, it is most closely linked to the fellowship of Jesus’ suffering. Should we be woke? Should we demand justice? Should we insist on equalities? Should we march in the streets and fight the good fight? Maybe. But first, every morning of every day, we must be passive. We must pray.  We need to imitate the humility and feel the suffering of Christ.

Those of us who went in 2019 on the CFH excursion to Mexico visited churches filled with department store mannequin-like statues of Jesus and various saints, luridly bloodied, bruised, with faces twisted in anguish. In Puebla, tourist-like, looking through glass into a coffin, we visited the un-decomposed body of Blessed Sebastian de Aparicio.  My Protestant evangelical self at first recoiled upon entering these churches, but softened with the obvious devotion of locals who had stepped in off the street to say prayers midst the depictions of suffering and death. This is power of the resurrection. This is the fellowship of Jesus’ suffering.

Lord God, we want to fix things.  We want to work.  We want to make things better.  We are do-gooders.  Help us first be passive.  Help us be humble.  Help us feel the powerlessness of the cross along with the power of the resurrection. Help us take our place in the fellowship of Jesus’ suffering.

Rick Kennedy is Professor of History at Point Loma Nazarene University. He is author of The First American Evangelical: A Short Life of Cotton Mather.

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