Oh boy, I’m such a wimp! These last few days have seen me coughing my guts up, sweating like a GCSE student on results day, swallowing water and soup like it was crushed glass, and surrounding myself with enough medication to fell all the runners in the Grand National. AND…I had a tooth out for the first time in over 20 years. To say I am phobic of dentists and a weed of a patient is to understate the case somewhat. My sister and my mum put all of the dramatised above down to me being a man; I don’t get a cold I get Spanish flu; I don’t go in for a tooth out I go in for major surgery. And so on. I actually think the truth is a little more prosaic and it affects all of us in exactly the same way.
Suffering, great or small, leaves us out of control and we have to trust someone else if we’re to have any hope of recovery. Most of us – and I make this observation on the basis of my experience of listening to people – are not good at trusting others on a day to day basis, so much so that when our backs are against the wall we find it almost impossible to trust and the degree of our suffering is heightened as fear and confusion take hold. It’s my experience that suffering is probably the only time when God is given a fighting chance to get close to us.
The great saints and mystics usually come to God through some intense experience of suffering. That can be physical like the wounded Ignatius Loyola who was badly wounded as a soldier or it can be the psychological suffering of having one’s strong will broken by the tedium of living a religious rule as in the case of Therese of Lisieux. And of course, there is the example from which these and all other saints and mystics take their lead: Jesus.
In his conversation with Pilate as he is condemned to death Jesus makes it clear that he is a king, but his Kingdom is not of this world otherwise his followers would have prevented him from being overtaken (John 18:36). No, his Kingdom is typified by his own example of resignation to the Father’s will for him, even if that means facing death. There is a sort of cultural heresy amongst some Christians that insists that Jesus secretly knew what God was going to do after his death (i.e. resurrect him). If this is the case then Jesus did not suffer like we do, and more: if this is the case then he wasn’t really one like us but was a fraud and has made our religion fraudulent. We believe in Christ as being fully human and fully divine so that we can rightly proclaim that God knows what it is to suffer with a human heart. In so far as Jesus had any special ‘knowledge’ about what was going to happen to him it could only have been in the context of so trusting and believing in God’s love for him that he was certain that even his own cruel agonising death would not be a obstacle for God.
Such trust, at such a moment in one’s life, cannot fail to leave the path wide open for the heavenly Kingdom. It is not typified by the human discipline of power, violence, by the need to be right all the time. Rather it is typified by the much harder won discipline of trust, non-violence, service even in suffering. Jesus is right, his Kingdom is not of this world. It makes no sense to us and so we bow to the empires of violence thinking this will solve our problems when all the evidence of all our centuries shows that ultimately it doesn’t. It might bring mild relief but not lasting peace. A recent study, conducted over 60 years in America, has concluded that money and power and self-preservation do not bring happiness. Only selfless service, the type that Jesus proposes, can guarantee that. Our response to this clinical study will demonstrate clearly whom we trust to be our King. Most people, including most Christians it would seem, will prefer to ignore this intense study and carry on fighting their own corner, ignorant of the fact that, if they tried, they couldn’t be more out of control and disconnected from the reality of who they are.
Christ is King. He was born for this, he came into the world for this: to witness to the Truth and all who are on the side of Truth will listen to his voice (John 18:37).
Who are you listening to these days?
Simon Lodge, 18xi09