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What Is Love? Part III – Suffering

Jeanne Guyon wrote, “You must see the wisdom of God’s plan in allowing . . . troubles to happen . . . There are two ways of handling little children. One is to give them all they want when they want it. Another is to give them only what is good for them so that they will grow up into maturity and not be spoiled. Your wise Father chooses the best way for you.” (Intimacy With Christ)

If we are parents, giving our children a strong sense of being loved through attention and affection is the foundation. But it is also imperative to allow appropriate suffering into our children’s lives. Without it they cannot grow; without it they will be left without empathy, compassion, self-discipline, respect for authority, and will not accept responsibility for their actions.

Much of this suffering will have to do with their actions. Actions have consequences; in the lives of our children, negative actions must be allowed to produce negative results. Our love must not be conditional, but we make their circumstances contingent upon their actions. A child who whines continually must be shown that whining produces a negative effect, every time – removal from the society of dad or mom to sit alone on a bed.

Some suffering will have nothing to do with their actions. If my son wants something very much, and I believe it would not be beneficial or even detrimental for him to have, I should say no, no matter how good it seems to him.

Other suffering has much less to do with what is good for him. Ultimately, I want him to be a benefit to others. I want him to be loving, kind, strong, creative, because I want him to love others, and benefit the world. So he must learn to get up on time; he must learn to not leave his clothes lying on the floor. He must learn to help those younger than himself, even when he doesn’t feel like it. He must do chores of some kind, and learn to do good work with a good attitude, to be a benefit to his future wife and children, and others in the world.

Suffering is necessary. Now, to my son, no suffering seems pleasant or even relevant at the time. He cannot see why he must go with me to take the trash to the dump. He is reading! I am interrupting! Why can’t his sister go? It doesn’t make any sense to him. But I know that some form of having to do what he doesn’t want to do is good for him, and good for the other people in his future – wife, children, friends, co-workers, and even enemies.

I am an earthly father. I am looking to my son’s eternal future, yes, but I cannot fully see the circumstances there. Mostly I am preparing him for life in this world, knowing that a man cannot always do what he wants, cannot always follow the strongest impulse, cannot long avoid taking the garbage out or getting up at a certain time or being courteous to others. My son may be called on to do great things, like providing for and raising a family, and great things require great character. If I am not preparing my son for this (and in many moments I have not), I am not loving my son. As a parent I am often to sacrifice my son’s immediate wants and desires for what I know he can and must be for others in the future.

The heavenly Father has eternal goals and plans for us beyond anything we could imagine. He may be preparing us to rule cities and judge angels, or to write the new royal score for the King’s symphony. Whatever it is, it will require love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, humility, and moderation (the ability to go the right length and no further with our desires) – and especially courage.

Why did God put his Son through an earthly life of being colored as a bastard (“We are not born of fornication. We are children of Abraham!”)? He was given to a fate of no reputation, despised, a wanderer, no place here he could call home, driven by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness alone to be tempted personally by  Satan. He was hated and persecuted endlessly by the religious leaders. His short-lived adulation by the populace came to nothing; in no time at all they were shouting “Crucify him!” And of course we know his end: mocked, hit in the face, whipped, made to carry a heavy beam on a bleeding back, then thick, dull spikes hammered through skin, piercing hands and feet, smashing through flesh and bone, tendons, nerves. More mocking and cruelty. And finally the worst – “My God, my God” (not “my Father”), “Why have you forsaken me?”

This was the love of God?

The Father knew the end result, saw the end from the beginning. He knew the joy suffering would produce, not only in the life of Jesus but through him flowing outward to an eternal Kingdom of saved people.

But Jesus, having set aside his omniscience, had to wrestle with his humanity, his own desires, and subject them to the Father’s will. All Jesus knew was that the Father is good, and works all things after the counsel of his own will, working all things together for good to them that love God and are called according to his purpose. Jesus said, “Not my will, but thine be done. In essence, “The Father’s will is my will, too, my deepest will.” In Gethsemane, when he finally stood and walked to meet the mob, he knew within himself that he was made for this moment, knowing he was not merely a human being but a unification of the human and Divine.

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