“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me Phillipians 3:10-12).”
Sometimes God goes for broke. For some reason known only to Him, He puts us in situations that seem well nigh unbearable.
Mary Ingles finds herself in such a circumstance in the oncoming winter of southwest Virginia. In the novel “Follow the River”, based on a true story from 18th century America , she has come all the way from Ohio on foot. Mary has fled Indians who had captured her and taken her back to her village.
Now she is close to her home, but she is climbing a cliff to get there. It is the only way. In her starved, weak condition the suffering is close to unbearable as she climbs the cliff. An excerpt from the novel describes her experience:
“The whole world was this steep and flinty gouge in a cliffside and the salvo of agonies she was expending against it. She was more intimate with this jagged square yard of earth within reach of her tortured senses than she had ever been with (her husband) Will. This climbing was a process as immediate and personal and critical as giving birth. It was like giving birth: If she could survive it there would be life beyond this cliff. If she could not, there would be nothing.”
As Mary looked down at the river she had been following for weeks, she felt out of place on the cliff. Her suffering down below had been so much a part of her that “she seemed to belong to the riverbed”. She felt that perhaps she should just let go of the cliff and “fall away to eternal rest”. But she couldn’t get her body to respond to her mind.
Doesn’t the suffering Mary Ingles encountered seem familiar? Oh, we might not have had to climb a cliff in winter while close to death, but we might have experienced some circumstances that at least felt as if we were.
When we are in pain, we become quite close to it. It dogs our every minute. The suffering may be shoved to the background so we can function, but is is always there, haunting us.
I am sure Jesus’ death on the Cross was unbearable. From all accounts, crucificixion was a horrible way to die. Yet, He did it for us. However, Jesus is now at the right hand of the Father while the battle continues down here (Psalm 110:1-6).
We believers are soldiers in that battle. As ones who have the name “Christ” in our name, we are called to the same suffering every day (Romans 12:1). Sometimes, though, the fight is intense and almost impossible to take.
There is some cause and effect relationship between our suffering and our eternal destiny as resurrected followers of Jesus. Like Mary Ingles, we have a choice. We can either perservere and end up at home in heaven with our loved ones and Jesus, or we can give up and end up with nothing.
The suffering we have endured in life may seem such a part of us that we think it will go on forever. In fact, it would seem strange to live without it. It is so familiar that we just want to give up and remain where we are.
But this pain and the circumstances surrounding it isn’t all there is. Life with Christ and heaven await us. The way out of our suffering is a climb forward and up, not back down the way we came.