Together in Suffering
It is perhaps the deepest challenge and, in turn, the greatest lesson for a man when those whom he loves suffer. Everyone is tempted to wonder about God’s will and the why of suffering. Everyone tastes the bitterness of that first fruit, pleasing as it was to the eyes and desirable to make one wise. Everyone feels the sting of suffering, the shared pain of shared lives. But a man, a husband, a father—he feels something else: impotence. There comes, when the doctor gingerly delivers the bad news, a horrible, gnawing, piercing pain because you are the fixer, and you can’t fix it. You are the hero, encased in kryptonite. Those who look to you, who hope in you, discover the dreadful truth that your knowledge, your strength, and your will are insufficient, wanting. Worse still, you run headlong into the same truth: You have failed.
As strategy after strategy failed and as each new step in her fight against cancer came with longer and longer odds, I wanted nothing more than to give my dear wife hope, a reason to believe that she could get better, that as bad as it all was, we could together get through it. We, naturally, spoke quite a bit about Jesus. I reminded her that Jesus reigns, that He does all His holy will. I reminded her that Jesus had suffered greatly, only to be exalted to the right hand of the Father. I reminded her that Jesus loved her with an everlasting, immutable, and unstoppable love. He was the answer to my weakness.
But there was still a weakness in my understanding. There was one promise I longed to make to her, one beautiful thought that I thought would warm and comfort her. One thing I had purposed in my heart as this journey began, however—I would not tell her a lie. I knew that if she could not trust me to tell her the truth, that even the truths I told her could offer no comfort. So while I told her Jesus had suffered even greater hardship, I would not tell her that He had trod her exact path, that He had experienced exactly the hardship she was going through. That is exactly where I went wrong.
It is a good and glorious thing to remember what our union with Christ means in terms of our justification. That our sin is imputed to Him and His righteousness imputed to us is no legal fiction, as Rome accuses, precisely because of the reality of our union with Him. He really was guilty because He really was one with us. We really are innocent because we really are one with Him.
It is a good and glorious thing to remember what our union with Christ means in terms of our glorification. His work did not merely acquire for us a verdict of not guilty. Rather, because we are in union with Him, we are joint heirs with Him. The glory that is His in His resurrection is ours. The glory that is His in His ascension is ours. We are even now, because we are in union with Him, seated with Him in the heavenly places. We are kings and queens even now because we are one with Him—the One who reigns over all.
There is, however, more still. Remember that Jesus, when He met Saul on the road to Damascus, did not ask, “Why are you persecuting My bride?” but “Why are you persecuting Me?” He, in union with us, so identifies with us, that what we suffer, He suffers. Because we are one flesh, what one half suffers the other does as well. Because of our union with Him, Jesus suffered from acute myeloid leukemia. Because of our union with Him, Jesus went into remission after a successful bone marrow transplant. Because of our union with Him, Jesus relapsed. Because of our union with Him, Jesus’ clinical trial was unable to slow the deadly progression of the disease. Because of our union with Him, He was unable to try more chemotherapy because His kidneys began to fail. Because of our union with Jesus, Jesus went into hospice, said goodbye to His friends, to His parents, His sister and brother, and to His little children. Because of our union with Jesus, Jesus said goodbye to the man who loved her forever and always. And because of our union with Jesus, Jesus, one with me, sat helpless while His bride waltzed into eternity.
Jesus, however, was raised from the dead. With Him was raised my beloved and with Him was raised my hope. Because she is in union with Him, she has found the fullness of the kingdom, and His righteousness is now all her own. Furthermore, because I am in union with Him, though I see through a glass darkly, I am there to dance with her. Because I am in union with Him, I got to be there when Jesus and Denise welcomed our little girl Shannon to eternal rest.
We are called to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. By His grace, we know that in His grace, His kingdom and His righteousness has been seeking us. But even that is not the utmost glory of the kingdom. The great glory of the kingdom is the glory of the King. For the King and His kingdom are one, even as we and the King are one. Rest and rejoice. Give thanks and give praise.