When Jesus offers us the twin gift set of His likeness and more of Him in the strange dressing of suffering, it is tempting to resist by saying “No.” No, this cannot be. No, this will not be. No, this was not the plan. No, not now. No, to this person. No, not in our family.
When suffering comes, we are invited to two paradoxical responses: a defiant “No” to the world, the flesh and the devil, and a submissive, trusting “Yes” to God. Even in the midst of sudden diagnoses, shocking deaths and steady disappointments, we are called and coaxed to say yes, even reluctantly, to our Triune God. Our God is Father who sovereignly works all things together for our good as Father, Son who was born to suffer as Savior, and Holy Spirit who soothes us in our sufferings.
Jill Phillips has a beautifully defiant song called Even Still that always comes to mind when Satan’s fingerprints can be found mucking up my life or the lives of those I most dearly love.
“Well you came just like they said you would
Like you always have from what I’ve seen and heard
And you took our dreams and future plans
Crushed them all like grains of sand
Even still, even still
You have no power, you never will
And even still, even still
You have no power and you never will.”
I love this song, specifically the chorus, because it reminds me that we are invited to call our Enemy who he is: a defeated fear monger whose days of wreaking havoc are numbered.
I don’t have a hard time descrying evil and suffering; that part of the equation comes as naturally to me as liking coffee and chocolate. I do, however, have a hard time receiving suffering, accepting unexpected hardships and what seem to me to be sad surprises from the Lord.
My flesh resists the thought of crosses in my life. My heart recoils at the mere thought, let alone the real presence of crosses in the lives of my children. Yet, God has been reminding of me late that it is His to plan and my to receive the unique stories He is writing for each of us.
It is so very easy and natural for me to receive good gifts from the Lord. Yes please to the generous gift. Why, certainly to the unexpected friendship. But the same hands that greedily grab at what I deem the “good gifts” of the Father suddenly become tight fists when He offers me or my loved ones the gifts of suffering.
For all the promises of God find their yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for His glory. 2 Corinthians 1:20.
Jesus, who said a reluctant but resplendent yes to His father in the Garden of Gethsemane, became the very Yes to all the promises of God on the Cross.
When I think about His Yes which became the Yes to every promise of God, I find my heart more able to say very reluctant yeses to the smaller sufferings that He has hand-picked for me and my loved ones.
It certainly helps that we see the Cross through the empty tomb, that we have the written accounts of those who walked and ate meals with the Risen Lord. We see that the Enemy’s haughty YES at his supposed victory on Friday as Jesus died on a Cross was became God’s defiant NO to sin, evil and brokenness on Sunday with the Resurrection of Christ.
As such, we would do well to learn to receive the gift of suffering and watch our loved ones wrestle with their versions of those gifts. For God seems to use suffering as the greatest gift, the invitation and pathway into more of the life for which we most deeply long.
Father, give us simultaneously strong and submissive hearts. Strong enough to shout a defiant NO to the enemy and the flesh, but submissive enough to whisper a trembling but trusting YES to you. Amen.
Photo credit to Setara who works beauty out of dead petals!