‘Sufferings,’ as I observed in my previous post, does not refer to ill-treatment, per se, but to being the object of someone else’s actions towards us, whether treating us well or badly.
When we hold ourselves out to an other – as we do, say, to someone we have fallen in love with; or when we move to initiate a new friendship – we make ourselves vulnerable to their response. Will my love be requited, or unrequited? Will this person I desire to befriend treat me honourably or dishonourably, bless me or curse me? We make ourselves vulnerable, and then we wait...
One cannot hand oneself over to an other, and choose not to take oneself back whatever the response, whatever the cost, without sooner or later being discouraged by how that person has done to you. For they, like us, are deeply wounded and often respond out of their wounded-ness. And responding out of our wounded-ness, as opposed to out of our oneness with God, is a good definition of what it means to ‘sin against’: our Confessions remind us that “we have sinned against God and against our neighbour in thought and word and deed, through negligence, through weakness, through our own deliberate fault” and as much through the good we have left undone as through the hurts we have done to others.
This is why Jesus insists that at the heart of our pattern of prayer must be the recognition and the response to that recognition “forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” Otherwise it is impossible to keep holding ourselves out to an other, and instead we withdraw: instead of outworking the ministry of reconciliation, we collude with the work of the accuser to bring division, to devour, to steal, kill and destroy.
The accuser, the devouring lion, the thief attempts to use that same wounded-ness in situations where the thing we ‘suffer’ – the thing done to us – is a response of love: even though we have made ourselves vulnerable to an other, in the hope that they will reciprocate by offering themselves to us (as friend, as parent, as child, as lover, as brother or sister or colleague or employer or neighbour – as a fellow human being), when they reciprocate we wait, deep inside, for the moment they will fail us and we will abandon them or we will fail them and they will abandon us...Or, in our dependence on an other (say, when illness makes a husband or wife as dependent on their partner as is a child to an adult) we fear that we are not worthy, that we have somehow failed or disappointed...
Again, it does not have to be that way. For Scripture reveals to us that it is in sharing in Christ’s sufferings that we are allowed and enabled to share in his glory.
In our sufferings: in those things done to us: the good and the bad: the honouring and the dishonouring: the response of love and the response of hate: there is a testimony from heaven: The Father says “You are my son, whom I love. With you I am well pleased.” The Spirit says “You are a son of God, a co-heir with Christ” – all that is Jesus’ – the Father’s love, the Father’s pride – is ours. The Son says, “You are mine” – my friends, my body, my bride. (These covenant descriptions are not about our gender, but our relationship to Jesus: so, male and female, we are sons of God because we are one with the Son; and, male and female, together the Church is the bride of Christ).
As we hear the testimony of heaven, we grow in our identity – we grow more fully into our identity. And as we grow in our identity, as those who are one with Christ, we are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory (2 Corinthians 3).
Today, hear the testimony of heaven. Today, be glorious.