Suffering and Resurrection

A couple of weeks ago, as the reality of the pandemic was hitting with full force, I was feeling weighed down and very much did not want to have my morning time with God. But at the same time, I also felt a much stronger than usual nudge that he might have something in particular to say to me. So I turned to my spot in the reading plan I use, and it landed me on 2 Corinthians 4 where we find Paul’s words:

“But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies . . . So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.”

I can hardly describe the impact these words had on me. For a moment I recoiled at the thought of a global pandemic being a “light momentary affliction,” but then I thought about some of the things Paul had in mind with this phrase. His own experience included imprisonment, shipwreck, beatings and a lack of sleep, food, clothing and shelter. Okay, Paul, you win.

With these ideas still lingering in the back of my mind, I’ve been thinking this holy week about how Paul identified with both the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. He wrote to the Philippians, “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead” [emphasis added]. To be honest, I’d kind of like to skip over that middle part. If I were to write it, I think I would be tempted to say something like “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection [and live a comfortable and relatively painless suburban American middle class life surrounded by loved ones] and somehow attain to the resurrection of the dead. Amen.”

But before we get to resurrection, we are invited to participate in his suffering. And that brings us to the present moment. So far, my family and I have mercifully been spared contracting the disease and thankfully I am still employed. We have so far only encountered the general separation from loved ones, restrictions in moving about and the vast uncertainty that everyone is experiencing. But I think and hope that it has also driven me deeper into the reality of life in Christ. On most mornings, I have started my day by listening to the song “House of God Forever” by Jon Foreman, which is essentially a recitation of Psalm 23: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” This verse is true because of the death and resurrection of Christ. One of the last things Jesus told his disciples before his crucifixion was that he was going to prepare a place for them in his Father’s house.

When this crisis eventually tapers, our culture will pressure us to rebuild the house of cards that just shattered in our hands. It will want us to rush back to work with extra hours, to rush back to the overburdened schedules, to rush back to the noise and crowds and plead with us to try to shop and spend our way out of a crisis. It will want us to forget this clear sense of our own fragile mortality. It wants to obscure the striking permanence, depth and reality of the Kingdom of Heaven in comparison to the waif-like substance of the systems of our world. It will want to distance us from sharing in the suffering of those around the world.

We have so far been given a month long glimpse to what is an ongoing daily reality for millions: the inadequacy of healthcare, the questions of where the next meal will come from, how long the place we live can be called our home. It will whisper to us that everything we are now experiencing was just a brief and unpleasant dream and urge us to rebuild our castles in the sand. It will want to lull us back to sleep spiritually. We must remind ourselves that we are “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.” And that “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” Let’s walk it out, from the uncertainties of today until we dwell safely in the house of the Lord forever.

by Steve Lamp

Steve and his wife Melissa began attending Kingsway in 2014. Not normally prone to public displays of emotion, he wept during the first worship service and knew he had found home. As an avid reader, Steve believes the ideas we allow into our minds are critical to our spiritual formation. He enjoys exploring nature, playing and spending time with his two young sons and over-quoting his favorite authors, C.S. Lewis and Dallas Willard.