The Glory & Grace Of Suffering
I've been thinking a lot lately about the nature of Grace, what it means, how it works, and the many ways it falls upon us.
The reason I have been thinking about Grace so much is that I've been preaching and writing about the nature of Grace from Paul's Epistle to the Romans, which ironically has been used by far too many Christians for far too long to justify why they act in grace-less ways toward people they view as "other."
Years ago, when I was in seminary, I talked with a classmate with strong opinions about the Apostle Paul and his writings.
She told me that she resented the fact that so much of what is wrong with Christian theology is due to the misinterpretation and weaponization of a few passages in his letters.
She had a point. Paul's letters have been used by Christians to justify the marginalization of women as leaders in the church, discrimination, and exclusion of LGBTQ+ people, anti-Semitism, racial injustice, and so much more.
But when you read Paul's letters as a body of work, especially the entirety of Romans, you begin to see that is so much more. Even today, Paul's understanding of Grace and his theology of the universal and eternal Christ embodied in Jesus are groundbreaking.
Paul also understood the idea that Grace comes to us in a variety of forms, even in suffering, which was something he experienced throughout his life.
One of the interesting things that Paul had to say about suffering is that when he experienced it, he learned to "glory" in it. That concept has also been misinterpreted over the centuries, so much so that some Christians believed that to truly follow Jesus, you had to suffer as much as possible.
That wasn't what Paul was saying at all. He said that when suffering comes to us, we shouldn't be overwhelmed or let it define us. It is just another opportunity to experience Grace. We find God in our broken places, woundedness, and trials.
So many of us spend our lives trying to avoid pain or numb it when it comes. We seldom surrender enough to let suffering do its work, which leads us to growth, and experience Grace during pain.
Renowned Buddhist teacher Ram Dass echoes this in a way that I found incredibly helpful:
So, the hard answer for how you are able to see suffering as Grace, and this is a stinker really, is that you have got to have consumed suffering into yourself.
Again, this doesn't mean we should become overwhelmed by our challenges or let them define us. This is what many of us do, though. We begin to believe that we are destined for nothing but suffering or that our struggles are due to our lack of character or some kind of defect.
We have a hard time finding "glory" in our pain.
But it is when we feel pain and suffering that we can, if we are willing, discover the impetus to move forward, learn what lessons we can from our challenges, and embrace Grace along the way.
May you find Grace in your struggles and seek the glory of God's presence with you- the presence that never leaves you alone, never wavers, and will be with you as you move forward in your journey to wholeness and peace.
And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.