One of the privileges and burdens of pastoral ministry is sharing in the deep suffering of so many of God’s sons and daughters. It’s all around–mind-boggling suffering, interminable pain. It can be overwhelming.
It’s hard to know precisely how to minister in times of deep pain, but Michael Horton offers some intriguing thoughts on the theology of suffering that I want to share with you:
[I]t is not by imitating Christ’s vicarious and atoning death, but by being incorporated into it as members organically attached to their dying and living head, that his conquest of sin and death becomes ours…
A Place for Weakness, 47.
When we suffer it can be tempting to believe that somehow we can be redemptive agents. If we work hard we can start a foundation, launch a ministry, build helping relationships with the vulnerable, all in a hope of mitigating or quashing sin and death.
Friends, the world is not ours to save. If we begin any of these good works with the intent of quashing sin and death, our noble errand will quickly become a ball and chain that pulls us into the darkness of bitterness and depression.
If, on the other hand, we begin with our union with Christ–our being united into his death–this makes all the difference. We become agents of God’s redemptive mission in the world. We are increasingly freed of the need to prove ourselves by changing the world. Instead, we find ourselves able to join in with those things God is already doing.