Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. Romans 8:18-23 (NLT)
When I think of "suffering with Christ", I tend to think about some third world prison, or perhaps some awful place of exile like Siberia, or even to those few countries left in the world where taking a stand for Christ could cost you your life. Over the last few weeks, as our Sunday school has been going through Romans chapter 8, I have began to develop another view of how we as Christians can "suffer with Christ".
You see, the book of Romans is all about unrighteousness, or "not-right-ness" as I like to call it. In fact, the first few chapters of the book of Romans spell out how all the world has become affected by this not-right-ness, to the point where no person can claim to be as they should be, and the result is death. Death in both body and spirit, spiritual deadness resulting from being disconnected from the source of all life, God, and ultimately, subject to decay and physical death as a visible demonstration of the effects of this not-right-ness.
Now the opening passage of the Book of John tells us that Jesus was there at the creation, and in fact, he was actively involved in the process of creating, and so of all beings, he must have been acutely aware of how things were meant to be with creation. And so imagine the very creator, the designer, the only one who knew exactly how things were supposed to be, coming down to live among and personally experience for himself the effects of this not-right-ness.
I believe that this is exactly what the writer of Hebrews has in mind when he says about Jesus, we have a High Priest who "understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do" and also "he offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears, to the one who could rescue him from death. And God heard his prayers because of his deep reverence for God. Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered."
So how do we suffer with Christ in this way? Well, to begin with, we need to look at the world around us through the same eyes that Jesus did. When we see things that are not as they should be, we should allow them to move us to tearful prayers.When we see injustice or unfairness, we need to take a stand against it and use the resources and abilities we are given to defeat it. When we see people who are broken from the trials of life, we need to have compassion on them rather than judging them for their choices. We need to claim the ministry of reconciliation (making things right again) that God commissions each of us to.
I have had a couple of hard weeks, and I can attest first hand to the difficulty of suffering in this way. I have experienced Police officers who have outright lied in order to persecute the homeless. I have seen Christian brothers fight and divide over minor relatively insignificant doctrines, I have watched a friend go to jail, I have seen families torn apart and watched as close friends struggle with addiction. And I can honestly say that my heart has been broken, my spirit has been taxed, and I have (sometimes literally) groaned against the experience of not-right-ness in all the places where I experienced it. I am convinced that this is just as much suffering with Christ as anything.
I am not making light of those who give their lives to serve Christ. Nor am I in any way lessening the suffering and death that Jesus experienced at the end of His life. I do, however, believe that persecution and suffering take different forms. And I know that not all of us live in places where we risk our lives or even livelihoods over taking a stand for Christ. But we can make the choice to see the world as it could be, as it was meant to be, as it was created to be, and to join with Christ in mourning that which is not as it should be and devoting ourselves to working to make it right once again.