The Surreal Life: Suffering Under the Cross

“I can’t believe this is really happening. This is so unreal. I never thought this would happen to me.”

Imagine hurriedly packing what stuff you could into the car and just leaving your home, your job, your friends, your life. Picture yourself riding down the road, unsure of where you are going, or when, how or even IF you would ever return…yet knowing that even if you did, life from that moment on would never be the same. Waking up in a strange place with strange people around you, watching things happen around you from the fringes of life...it all feels very surreal.

Everyone and their uncle has advice for people suffering in these kinds of situations. We hear similar words all the time, and a lot of them even come from well-meaning fellow Christians.

“Don’t worry. God has a plan.” Hello? God planned this? I don’t like this plan at all, is there a Plan B? “Things will get better eventually.” You must not understand just how bad things are – I really don’t think I’ll make it to “eventually”. “God is teaching you a lesson, you need to believe harder and live better.” Couldn’t He have just TOLD me this stuff?

We even give ourselves advice in our internal dialogues. “God is punishing you. He’s abandoned you. You don’t matter to Him. Shoot, God may not even exist, how could He let THIS happen to you?”

Like the Psalmist, we shake our fists at God and demand to know why. We cry out and plead to know how long this pain will go on. We become fearful, afraid to trust and let ourselves get comfortable with life again because we’ve learned just how quickly it can change...or end.

We actually think we deserve better. We’re think we’re pretty good people, for the most part, living decent, responsible, productive lives. It’s those other people over there, the bad people, the sinners who deserve to suffer for their sins.

Oh wait...I’m a sinner. Everything that I suffer really is my fault, whether my own personally, or as a result of my sins in Adam. That’s why we confess every Sunday that we justly deserve to suffer God’s temporal and eternal punishment. How selfishly idolatrous we’ve been!

How faithless! Now what? We’ve lost everything – goods, fame, child and wife – and then to realize that even our faith has been almost completely misdirected back upon ourselves. What could possibly remain to give us reason to want to wake up for another day?

Let’s be honest. Most days baptism doesn’t mean much to us nor does it play a very significant role in our lives. We just don’t give baptism much thought. But when everything in our lives is turned upside down and we’re trying to find something, anything, to cling to that is stable and not going to disappear like everything else, Christians have been given Baptism.

It is by baptism, the external application of water and the Word of God’s promises of forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation to us, that we receive all things in our lives as gifts from God. In Baptism, God adopts us in to His family and makes us heirs of His kingdom with Christ. In baptism, God promises to give us everything that He has given to Christ and to love us as He loves the Son. When we remember that we have been baptized, we remember that God will not punish us as we deserve, He punished Christ for all our sins already. God doesn’t hate us, He hated Christ because of all our sins that He took upon Himself and He made Christ His enemy on the Cross for us. God has not abandoned us. He abandoned Christ for us and for our salvation.

To say, “I am baptized,” is to cling to those promises God gave us in baptism. Faith holds God to His baptismal promises, even when everything in our lives, all the voices of people around us and even within ourselves tempt us to doubt His Word, to curse God and die just to end the suffering. When the only good thing we can find in our days and lives is to be able to say, “I am baptized,” rejoice! You have already been given everything. Things aren’t just going to get better one day when we’re in heaven – all of heaven was given to us in Baptism.

Only by faith are we freed to see even tragedies in our lives as gifts from God. Like the blind man at the well, our suffering under the Law is an opportunity to repent of our sins and be turned once again to the waters of our Baptism. In suffering, strange as it sounds, is a chance we wouldn’t have otherwise had to glorify God and bear witness to Christ. Those experiences borne out of tragedy nuance our vocations and increase unique opportunities for the Spirit to reach people with the Gospel. Only faith tells us that the suffering we experience is not condemnation.

You are not just a sister, you are the sister of a developmentally disabled sibling. You are not just a son, you are a son who lost his mother to cancer. You are not just a wife, you are a domestic violence survivor. You are not just a southerner, you lost everything you had to Katrina – everything but the one thing that cannot be taken away. You are baptized.

Sandra Ostapowich is on the Board of Directors for Higher Things. She lives in Minneapolis, MN with her son, and has close family in from New Orleans. Comments may be made to ostapowich@higherthings.org.