On Redemptive Suffering
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
Christina Chase View All
Although crippled by disease, I'm fully alive in love. I write about the terrible beauty and sacred wonder of life, while living with physical disability and severe dependency. A revert to the Catholic faith through atheism, I'm not afraid to ask life's big questions. I explore what it means to be fully human through my weekly blog and have written a book: It's Good to Be Here, published by Sophia Institute Press.
Great read. I loved how you spoke about the rain and decomposition to explain redemptive suffering; that is so true!
I am also not sure how Jesus might have suffered ALL things while on this earth… That is interesting food for thought, and is something I may ask my Pastors! 🙂
Also, I wanted to share this article with you on saints and what biblically makes a person a saint: https://www.gotquestions.org/saints-Christian.html. Be blessed!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Good to see you again! Thank you for reflecting with me… And, yes, on this subject I seem to have more questions than understanding – But what mind can comprehend the Mysteries of God?
I read the article that you included. Yes, even as a Latin Rite Catholic, I have been taught that “Saints” are holy ones of God and that we are all called to be holy. As Christians, we dedicate our lives to God, striving to be like God, but very much still on the journey as our lives are not fulfilled yet, if you know what I mean. Also, someone may say that they are Christian and not live as a Christian – I don’t think that I would call that person a Saint. Would you?Two positively glaring mistakes were made in the article, however.
First: the people who have passed from this life and are beatified or canonized in the Catholic Church are NOT the only people who are Saints in Heaven – They are the ones who are officially recognized or acknowledged, because of their exemplary holy lives, and offered as good examples and role models for us. Heaven is full of unrecognized Saints – unrecognized by us on earth, but always, of course, fully loved and recognized by God!
Second: Catholics are not to worship Saints! I understand the confusion, because some people look like they are worshiping statues when they pray, and some have an extremely intense veneration for The Virgin Mary. But, anyone who worships a statue or a Saint is committing grave sin! Adoration and Worship are due to God and God alone! The Mother of Jesus is honored as the highest of Saints – she is finite, a human who is only human, NOT God. Catholics have statues of saints inside and outside of our churches much the way that we have photographs of family and friends in our homes. These are real people who lived holy lives right through their earthly deaths and we like to remember and honor them. Catholics ask the Saints To pray for them – much the way that we ask people around us, the living Christians dedicated to God, to pray for us.
This is important for it shows us what we have in common, as people of faith. We need to work on coming together as Christians, as Jesus wanted us to be one, instead of falling prey to misunderstanding and prejudice. I am thoroughly grateful for the opportunity to clear things up through your comment. Thank you! And may God bless you richly.
Exactly– we can’t fathom Jesus’ mysteries!!
I was always taught, as an evangelical Christian, that many Catholics were taught and told to pray to saints, instead of praying directly to Christ. I was given this impression by a Catholic friend, as well.
All this to say, I do believe we need to come together! A personal relationship with Jesus Christ is just that– personal. As long as the relationship is biblical, I am happy and so glad to share the most important bond we ever could with you. Thank you for clearing up how you believe as a Catholic. It is much appreciated 🙂
You have a blessed day! I’m thankful for you, Christina.
In Christ Alone,
Yes, I know that sometimes, the teachings of the Catholic Church are not well communicated and people can become confused – even well-meaning Catholics! I’m thankful for you, too, Annalee and for our coming together here! Blessings and the Peace of Christ be with you, Pax Christi,
Thank you ❤ Jesus bless you!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Beautiful –especially with the metaphors regarding the Lord’s creation.
Sent you a little note via e-mail. 🙂
LikeLiked by 1 person
When I saw the title of your post, I almost decided not to read further. At best I knew i would have to wait until right time. It’s not that I am suffering. Or not suffering. We all get our share. It’s the “redemptive” element. I had long ago given up trying to understand that.
I was taught a similar prayer to the one your mom talked about. I think it was called the morning offering. A priest suggested that we tape it to the bathroom mirror. I did, and it helped–sort of. That is, it helped me think that bad things that came my way weren’t so bad that they couldn’t be also mysteriously good. It never really occurred to me to wonder why we should “offer it up.” (Especially “up”? )
But I dimly understood that this notion wasn’t just about bad things that might happen. We were to offer the good things too, everything, every moment–“all my prayers, works, joys, sufferings, etc.” Somehow this mental act, or decision, first thing in the morning ,was going to help me get through the day better, by reminding me not just that Jesus suffered (terribly, though for “only” for about 24 hours) but that he lived “for us,” and still does. Again, the “offering” part pretty much eluded me–offering as in sacrifice (the Old Testament kind).
Anyway, now that I finally read what you wrote, I feel OK about “it” (if that makes sense) because you express a hesitancy, maybe better called a “humility,” that allows for a balance between “understanding” and believing. I think this sentence of yours pretty well sums up the view as I see it: “This is life, this is how this life works. I don’t know precisely why because I didn’t create it.”
And so, Christina, even though your faith there at the end, starting with “Can you imagine. . .” is a bit more expressive than mine, more personal as well as interpersonal, I am with you all the way on this–trailing behind a bit to be sure, but still with you. It was important for me to have read this. I’m glad that I did.
Thank you as always, Albert, for being here and reflecting with me. Yes, the understanding of redemption, of salvation, is difficult for me. But, who can understand it? Forgiveness and healing I understand and, as you wrote, living for God and giving all to God (sufferings, words, work, and joy) to do with as He will. It’s all a Mystery but, yes, this kind of “offering” helps me, too, to remember where I belong and who the Giver is and how He can bring good things out of bad.
My intention and goal with this post was definitely not to explain redemptive suffering, as you saw. I have 1000 more questions! I am a pilgrim, a student, journeying along as best as I can with the merciful and generous grace of God, grateful to meet fellow pilgrims on the way for sympathy and encouragement. Blessings to you, fellow pilgrim! ❤