Hurt and pain, in these extremes, exists for personal gratification through attention, or, it is without point and so must be pushed down and hidden because who cares.....
What if neither response is a correct response to the meaning of suffering?
What if suffering is a beautiful purposeful experience that points to a greater hope than even a removal of that suffering??
Colossians 1:24 points suffering in a much different light than we often allow ourselves to believe;
Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.
Paul, writing here, does not whine and ask for sympathy, neither does he pretend everything is ok. Instead he rejoices! And why does he rejoice? Because it is in his suffering that he is fulfilling the message of Christ's hope to his readers in brilliant technicolor. He IS NOT saying that Jesus didn't do enough on the cross, but that in Paul's joyful and hope centered response to suffering he is making tangible what the power of the Gospel is all about.
When suffering is about US, we gravitate to the unhealthy poles of extremism. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is that ALL suffering belongs to the finished work on the cross. Earlier in this letter Paul makes it clear that from Eternity past to Eternity future all things are under the Lordship of Christ. Even our suffering. Even our pain. Even our breath. Even our death.
Starting with this truth, we see that what we are suffering through is not outside of the control of God, as if He has been rendered powerless and incompetent in the face of great tradgedy. But that instead this, even this, is working towards a great weight of Glory in Eternity.
The most powerful testimony to the Goodness of God is not that God lets you win the lottery, or your cancer is healed, or that your children come home, but that your heart can sing with a joy that is not defined by the momentary circumstances of our lives.
Paul understands something that I wish I(and others) would embrace more completely more often. Offering the Cross to the lost, and freedom to the slave, is not an offer to money, health, and material blessing. Instead, it is an offer to suffer for the sake of a hope that surpasses suffering. The Colossians were not going to be encouraged in a lasting way by Paul saying, "look, I started following Christ and my pain in my side went away, my shorter leg grew longer and I found money in my couch". Surely this would be enticing for a while, but when the brokeness of life caught up with them they would see the lie for what it is. Paul did not offer quick fixes and temporary blessings, he said, "Look at how I suffer, and how even in my suffering I celebrate the goodness of a God who gave up Himself for my sake".
We often "sell" our church, our beliefs, our faith, on the premise of "look how great it is here!!! look how happy we are!!! look how much better off our lives are now that we are "in"!!!" Instead, we should follow Paul's example.
To weep with each other.
To face difficulties with each other.
To be honests about our failures and imperfections.
And in the midst of it all point to the Cross that stands over it all and calls us to lie down along still waters! To be joyful that even our very suffering declares the power of the Hope we have in Christ.
Even when it is good, we can be selfishly angry about it....