An old criticism of the Christian way is a perceived emphasis on suffering. Gaunt pictures of self-flagellating, hair-shirted, monks and nuns in cold, dank cells lend credence to the view that the Christian faith appeals to the masochistic spirit that seeks ecstasy in pain and self-degradation.
While anyone can employ a religious motif to their own end, pathological or otherwise, this is not what the Apostle Paul speaks of in Romans 5:1-5 (NRSV) where he says…we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. (vv3b-5).
Anyone knows that when one’s eye is fixed on a goal, it’s going to lead to a denial of living a lifestyle to the course of least resistance. One has to dig a channel according to the desired end, whether studying for a degree, saving for a home deposit, or training for a sport qualification. Blood, sweat and tears are involved – suffering for a purpose (and not for the self-gratification that agony might satisfy!).
This is no less the case when living life according to a defined purpose. The apostle says that when that purpose commends and exemplifies the Way of Jesus, any resulting suffering pays dividends, simply reinforcing the transcendent purpose of the Way as resilience builds.
Suffering is not to be sought for its own sake, but nevertheless welcomed as a potential viable source for strengthening faith and allegiance to the end of the Good News for the world, the reign of love and its legacy at large amongst all peoples. Any suffering, it seems, is pointless unless creatively and intentionally directed towards this end, even when it takes a while for this realisation to dawn.