A friend told me fairly recently that she thinks of me when she reads Colossians 1:24.
Yes, I admit, I had to look it up…
“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…”.
Ah, yes, I am familiar with this one, as well as its association with redemptive suffering. But… I can’t say that I understand it. Because I don’t. I don’t really get the concept of redemptive suffering… but, I am trying.
My mother is a lifelong Catholic and, so, I do know about “offering it up”. That is, she has told me to simply offer up my day and all of my pains and sufferings to God, suggesting to do this with a simple prayer first thing in the morning. Okay. I didn’t do that when I was younger, but, after my long spiritual journey and upon rediscovering Christ (perhaps, more accurately, upon discovering him for the first time) I wanted to give it a go. And I have been. But… I still don’t get it.
What Is Lacking in Christ?
Sometime during this year’s adventure in health, I thought again about this enigmatic phrase from Sacred Scripture, “in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ,” and a new thought was given to me. Well, a new angle or perspective…
Jesus took on the sufferings of humankind with his sacrifice upon the Cross. He was fully united with us in our pain, suffering with us. But (and please forgive me if this sounds sacrilegious, I do not mean it to be, and if I am speaking incorrectly of Church teaching, please correct me) Jesus was one human, with one human body. He could not, in his one human lifetime, suffer every suffering that is known to humankind.
There are billions of ways to suffer in this life. Jesus suffered his particular suffering and, being fully divine as well as fully human, in his particular suffering he took on all of suffering – but… he did not himself physically suffer leprosy, or lifelong disability, or cancer, or, of course, menstrual pains and the pain of childbirth. We do that as individuals. However (and this is a big however) when we offer these trials and sufferings of ours up to God, when we seek to suffer them in union with Jesus on the Cross, then Jesus was and is able (the Mystery of the Eternal Now) to suffer them himself up there, once and for all, for the Salvation of the World.
Why Am I “Offering It up”?
Does this make any sense? Well, not completely, but that’s partly because it’s a Mystery. There are some things in this life that we can never understand because we are limited. Jesus asks us to offer our sufferings up to him so that he may unite them with his Sacrifice on the Cross for redemption. He suffers everything with us and for us when we turn to him in our sorrows and needs and, thus, saves humankind.
So, I have come a tiny bit closer to understanding “offering it up” and the reason that my friend thinks of me when hearing St. Paul’s words. It is, after all, quite obvious, upon looking at me, that I suffer in my body. And also rather obvious, upon knowing me, that I rejoice in being alive – if not exactly in my sufferings. (I’m definitely not a saint yet!)
I don’t know what sufferings await me in the future – of course, no one does – but mine were feeling palpably close and real when I came to this understanding. When I was thinking about offering it up during my cancer scare, Carrie Underwood’s song would come into my head: “Jesus, Take the Wheel.” I don’t really know the words of the song or what it is about, but the sentiment of wanting God to take control and take over – because I know that I can’t do it on my own – I get… And I’m hoping that this is part of “offering it up”, too…. Yes. It is. For I am not alone. None of us are. And it’s good to know that.
Why Redemption through Suffering?
All of this does beg the question, however – “Why redemption through suffering?” What is so good about pain that it has eternal benefit? I’m sure there are many theologians that have tackled this question, but I’m just going to answer with this:
Why are lush, green islands dependent upon volcanic eruptions? Why do the bodies of furry creatures need to decompose upon the forest floor and, thus, feed the forest? Why rain? Why childbirth to bring new life?
This is life, this is how this life works. I don’t know precisely why because I didn’t create it. But, I do trust the Creator and I am willing (God, help me) to live fully and love deeply this terribly beautiful life that He has given to me. There are people who are suffering so much worse than I am, so much worse than I ever can. My heart goes out to them… Can you imagine how much more so with Jesus? His heart not only goes out to me, it is beating for me, it is being pierced for me. For you. I am not alone. You are not alone.
May I truly offer my sufferings up to Christ for the Glory of God, for the Kingdom and the Salvation of Souls.
So mysterious… So fleeting this life… So lovely…. Please help us, our Lord and God…
© 2017 Christina Chase
- At the Altar, © 2017 Dan Chase
- Aaron Burden, free to use through Unsplash.com