We always interpret our suffering. A man said, “that is life” in response to his five-year-old son’s death. In other words, like all of nature, we are born and we die. That is life. Life is to die. All suffering is headed toward death. You can imagine that this man’s response had a measure of grief but was governed by fatalism. After the burial, he would get on with life and not look back as he, too, is headed toward death.
Take suffering. Add isolation. Now remember that human suffering—when it is apart from Jesus—is a messenger who announces that death will render all of life utterly meaningless. That is abject suffering.
But when someone is resurrected from the dead, and when our lives are bound to his, the interpretation of suffering changes.
We, indeed, suffer. Now add—not isolation—but participation and communion with Christ. In suffering, we come to know him better. Our relationship with him grows. Now add more. It is one thing to have fellowship in our suffering; it is something else for that fellowship to deepen after death. All our suffering is headed toward life, not death. Death does not have the last word. As we are in Christ, we are being irresistibly taken to life. That is, we are taken into his immortal life. The apostle Paul writes,
For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things…in order that I may gain Christ…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Phil. 3:8, 10-11)
Paul always seems one step ahead of us, which is what we prefer in a guide through unfamiliar experiences. He reminds us that communion and fellowship are the hallmarks of the Christian life, and they remain available to us in suffering.
In Christ—as our lives are bound to him through faith—we are always headed to life. Yes, there are many surprises and hardships along the way, so many “means” (3:11) that move us toward that resurrection life. But life it is. Jesus said, “I came that you might have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Death itself will not interfere with this promised life.
Suffering is capable of drawing out the “either/or” nature of human life. We are headed toward either death or life. But we, who have come to know Christ, are blessed to know which one it is for us. We are pilgrims who are walking with The Life and headed to The Life.
May God give us eyes to see such things.