Christ of Ixmiquilpan (Mexico, ca. 1770) by José de Páez
Love is patient. That’s the first descriptive of love in the great love chapter of the Bible: 1 Corinthians 13. Love is patient not only when waiting for something good but when enduring something bad. Life on earth is short and full of hardships: “A mortal, born of woman, few of days and full of trouble, comes up like a flower and withers, flees like a shadow and does not last” (Job 14:1). Suffering can make us better or bitter. It depends on how we respond to it. Those who endure suffering patiently, loving God and obeying him despite their pain, gain great rewards. A wise man once said, “When someone performs miracles, they are in God’s debt, but if they have to suffer, God places himself in their debt.”
Seeking pleasure and avoiding pain is the most natural approach to life. Yet people who have not suffered are intolerable. The kindest and gentlest people have had their rough edges rubbed off by suffering. We will find peace by treating things that are pleasant as bitter and things that are bitter as pleasant. When bitter things are accepted as a gift from God they become sweet. To accept suffering willingly is not only a means to spiritual growth, it’s a prerequisite to becoming a disciple of Jesus. He said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). When anyone comes forward at church wanting to become a Christian, we ask them to say a prayer. Jesus bids them suffer and die. We need to ask, How much of ourselves do we want Jesus to save? If we only want our lips to be saved, we can give him our words. If we want all of us to be saved, we must give him our whole lives. God will save whatever we give him. If we give him our suffering, he will redeem that too. God is in the business of bringing light out of darkness, good out of evil, life out of death.
Think about Jesus on the cross. He suffered horribly, not only from the wounds in his head, hands, feet, and side, but his soul was tormented as well. What kept him on the cross? It wasn’t the nails. No iron in the world is strong enough. Ten thousand angels stood ready to rescue Jesus at his Father’s command (Matt. 26:53). No, it wasn’t the nails that kept Jesus on the cross. It was love. Love is patient. Jesus patiently endured the humility, pain, and despair of the cross because he loves us.
God is not aloof from human suffering. In the person of Jesus, God entered into our frail human condition and suffered with us and for us. That is love. Love suffers willingly, even joyfully. When we patiently endure suffering, the love of God is made perfect in us.