In Victor Frankel’s stories about his days in Auschwitz, he talks about how people facing such horror and suffering found hope in the midst of the pain. A young woman, facing death in the very near future was always smiling and cheerful.
So he asked her: "How, how do you hold your countenance to be so wonderful in the midst of such suffering and pain?" She said, "In my loneliness, the only thing I have is that tree I can spy through this tiny window and I talk to it."
He was rather confused and asked, "Does it talk back?" She said, "Yes." "What does it say to you?" She said, "The tree says to me 'I am here. I am here. And I am alive. I am eternally alive.'"
As Christians believing in the resurrection, we can look at the tree of the cross and we can say, "I shall not be conquered. I believe in eternal life." We can look suffering and death in the eye and say, “I am alive. I am eternally alive.”
Scripture offers us powerful support when it comes to pain and suffering.
“From Paul… Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:1-7).
Our God is a God who comforts us in our troubles. Paul goes on: “For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer.”
God’s grace in Paul is for our comfort. Paul’s suffering is for our comfort and salvation. In the same way, God’s grace is in us when we are suffering; and our suffering is for the comfort and salvation of those for whom we pray and for whom we offer our discomforts.
Paul concludes this passage with these words: “And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.”
If we understand this passage then we can appreciate the concept of accepting suffering and pain in the spirit of Christ’s sacrifice – his offering of suffering and death. Then we can understand how the disciples rejoiced at being flogged for the love of Christ and his mission.
We don’t always get it right, but as Christians we come back to the Lord on Sunday morning and try again to follow Jesus. As Father Brendan McGuire put it:
“We must do what Christ did. We take in the hatred and give out love. We take in the anger and give out graciousness. We take in the envy and we give out compassion. We take in the bitterness and we give out blessing. We take in the pettiness and we give out warmth. And fundamentally in the end, we take in pain, suffering and sin and give out forgiveness. At the end of it all, we take in death and we embrace eternal life.”