In a disturbing incident of a South Korean man being found crucified on a cross, mostly likely resulting from a voluntary reconstruction of Calvary, one cannot help but ask the question “Why?” Simon Dein, the editor of the journal “Mental Health, Religion & Culture” was quoted in the CNN news blog: “It’s not unknown for Christians and Shia Muslims to inflict extreme pain for atonement. It is thought that pain is spiritually purifying.” But apart from the intent of the crucified man or the reasoning behind other acts of self-flagellation, such events raise the perennial question of why we have to suffer? Is it really to purify ourselves? I certainly hope not. Anyone who does so, does not fully understand the gospel of Christ, the One who screamed “It is finished!” on the cross two thousand years ago. Certainly, there is a place for suffering for Christians and the Church. Colossians 1:24 seems to say so. But this South Korean man seemed to err in the answer to the following question, “How are we to engage in suffering?”
One thing I know with deep certitude is that self inflicted suffering is unnecessary. In life, suffering will find us. But I think the bigger issue, or at least the proper way to think about how to engage in suffering is to always ask the purpose of the particular situation. I have previously lived in a house with such poor insulation that in the winters, the memory foam on my bed would ‘freeze’ over and would not sink to the weight and heat of my body, no matter how long I lay there. I remained under that roof in part because the rent was unbeatable but deep in my subconscious, I had a sense that I had to, because I was a ‘humble student of religion.’ Like I said, self inflicted suffering is unnecessary (might I add stupid). Along with its purpose, the ‘how’ and ‘when’ of suffering become clearer when seen in the backdrop of justice. Not justice like most Americans are thinking about (i.e. the killing of bin Laden, retributive justice), but justice in the fuller sense. The OT scholar, Bruce Waltke, defines tzedakah, or righteous, as a person exemplifying the fuller sense of justice, and he defines in Book of Proverbs as follows:
The righteous are willing to disadvantage themselves to advantage the community; the wicked are willing to disadvantage the community to advantage themselves.
With such a backdrop, suffering becomes something different, and it becomes easier to discern when and how suffering should be engaged. Does your suffering, or disadvantage, advantage others? Most of us Americans never ask that. Heck, we never think that. We are too busy seeking the advantage of ourselves, to collect, to gain, to win. Americans, in recent days, have touted and demanded justice as if we actually knew what it meant, but so often the mirror of our lives reflect the face of the wicked and not the righteous. We love advantaging ourselves at all costs.