Modern psychology gives us many terms for those who willingly submit to suffering or persecution: Martyr complex, masochistic, neurotic, self-destructive, suicidal. But there’s no escaping the fact that the Bible does not always talk of suffering as something to be avoided. In fact, suffering is often talked about in positive terms – as a privilege.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told us to turn the other cheek, lend to those who can’t repay, and love our enemies. These can all be difficult commands to obey. Peter, in his first letter, says that trials and suffering can be expected throughout our life on earth, but they have a positive purpose.
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:6-7)
Whenever we are punished or disciplined unjustly, we feel outraged, but Peter encourages us to bear it patiently.
For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. (1 Peter 2:19-21)
Common sense tells us to stand up for ourselves if we’re unjustly punished or accused, and to protect ourselves. Jesus’ friends probably told him the same thing. Yet the purpose of his suffering is now clear to us. Indeed, the fate of all mankind hung on him acting just as he did.
We participate in Christ’s sufferings when we are willingly suffering for his sake. But he also participates with us in our sufferings. When we suffer, he suffers with us.
If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. (1 Peter 4:14)
A wonderful example of this is Corrie ten Boom, whose family hid Jews in Holland from the Nazis. They were eventually betrayed. Her father died in prison, then she and her sister were sent to a death camp, where her sister died. Corrie rejoiced in the Lord through all her sufferings and travelled the world encouraging Christians and spreading the gospel to all she met. You can read her story here, and below is a poem she wrote which is very relevant to this topic.
“My life is but a weaving
Between my God and me.
I cannot choose the colors
He weaveth steadily.
Oft’ times He weaveth sorrow;
And I in foolish pride
Forget He sees the upper
And I the underside.
Not ’til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Will God unroll the canvas
And reveal the reason why.
The dark threads are as needful
In the weaver’s skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned
He knows, He loves, He cares;
Nothing this truth can dim.
He gives the very best to those
Who leave the choice to Him.”