One of the most remarkable things about Jesus’ suffering is his patience. He could have used miracles to make himself impervious to discomfort and to achieve instantaneous results, but he didn’t. Jesus was conceived in his mother’s womb, then waited nine months to be born. He grew up working with his father as a carpenter. He waited 30 years to begin his public ministry, withholding his identity as the Messiah until the right time.
Jesus also showed patience with suffering. Augustine argued that Jesus teaches us true patience by his willingness to suffer evil: “Properly speaking those are patient who would rather bear evils without inflicting them, than inflict them without bearing them.” Jesus was patient in suffering not to prove a philosophical point; he was patient for our sake.
This idea that suffering requires patience is difficult to hear. One of the greatest blessings of the modern world is the way that science, technology, and medicine have relieved us of much suffering, especially as compared with previous generations. But this blessing hides a danger. We have come to believe that no one should have to suffer.
There is a very Christian, humanitarian impulse in this desire to help relieve the suffering of others, but this impulse can also lead into falsehood. Compassion—literally, “suffering with”—can degrade into sentimentality, which cannot bear the thought of suffering. We suppose that the highest good is to avoid suffering.
This becomes particularly dangerous when we decide that certain kinds of life are not worth living. While this is a modern impulse, we also see it in the New Testament, in a pivotal conversation between Jesus and Peter, as the latter is grappling ...1
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