Jeff Cavins latest book When You Suffer: Biblical Keys for Hope and Understanding is aptly titled. Added to the well known “Death and Taxes” should be added “suffering” as something guaranteed for us. Jesus did not say “If you happen to have a cross, pick it up.” It is how we handle suffering that is the crux of the matter (use pun intended as always).
So how do we handle suffering without losing hope? The whole modern world seems to be aimed at eliminating suffering, but not dealing with suffering we can’t avoid. Often to eliminate the suffering they would eliminate the sufferer. Still in a Christian context there is much more to suffering than mere endurance.
For Catholics we will often hear “offer it up” and we might even have some grasp of what that means. Some of us might even be able to point to 1st Colossians 1:24.
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking* in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church, of which I am a minister in accordance with God’s stewardship given to me to bring to completion for you the word of God …
That somehow we can unite our sufferings with the redemptive suffering of Christ. Venerable Fulton J. Sheen use to speak about the tragedy of “wasted suffering” in hospitals. Yet even knowing some of this it is easy to have a trite understanding of this. Which is why I found Jeff Cavins new book to be very useful in explaining this and making the proper distinctions.
This review of the book puts this succinctly:
Cavins separates suffering into two categories: physical and moral. Physical is temporal, of this earth. It is temporary. Moral, on the other hand, can have eternal consequences and lead to the loss of eternal life. He also states that there are different purposes for suffering. Punitive is suffering as the result of sin. In a statement that many people today would be uncomfortable with, he maintains that God does punish us, but He does it for our good. However, not all suffering is punishment for sin. Some suffering is probative, or a testing of our faith. Other suffering is disciplinary, in which God is trying to educate us, once again for our benefit.
The impetus for this book was a period of serious physical pain that Jeff Cavins went through. No doubt he had a fairly good grasp of redemptive suffering before-hand, but the concrete often challenges our intellectual understandings. As a result his winsome writing on the subject delves into the intellectual understanding of the subject and the practical day-to-day aspects of living through suffering.
But if we can attach meaning to our suffering, if there is some value in what we are experiencing, we can endure anything.
There is a good deal I am tempted to quote from the book, but more to the point I think this book is a very useful guide to the subject. A book I will be keeping at hand myself.
- “Suck It Up” vs. “Offer It Up” Simcha Fisher’s look at this comparison.