Enduring Trials: Without Suffering, the Cross Cannot Be Embraced
In comparison to eternity, the trials we suffer in this life are but a blip on the meter. Many are suffering job loss, illnesses, mortgage foreclosures, and all kinds of strife and hardships. Yet if we look at all these difficulties in light of eternity, this time of trial is nothing. In Romans 8:18, we read: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us.”
God’s desire that we all come to the knowledge of the truth and be saved is real. His love for us is all-consuming, and nothing that happens in our life is without value in this journey to eternity. Our God does not send anything our way that is beyond our ability to withstand, for his grace is sufficient. Suffering has a salvific role, for it is in suffering that we are able to take up our cross and follow Christ. Without ascetic struggle, we remain unchanged, and transformation of self is unattainable.
God desires all be saved, yet this gift of salvation has to be accepted by the believer, since God will not force salvation on humanity. As we are free to reject the gift of salvation, suffering allows us to remember that this world is transitory, and that we need God. It is in this turning to God during periods of struggle that we grow in our faith, becoming one step closer to deification, where we are united, in our humanity, to God’s divinity. This transformation takes place when we give ourselves over in humility to the will of God, embracing repentance as a way of life, and placing ourselves before God’s mercy.
There is nothing a person can do to earn salvation, for it is a gift from God. Yet to be saved, we must work together with God in synergeia, whereby our entire being, including our will, effort, and actions, are perfectly conformed with, and united to, the Divine.
Our Orthodox life is a life of suffering love, and this is perhaps the most difficult for most of us to accept. We are familiar with suffering, but will do anything we can to avoid it, forgetting that Christ told us that if we were to follow him, we had to take up our cross. Without suffering, the cross cannot be embraced.