While a student at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary our dean, The Very Rev. Fr. Thomas Hopko, said, “Theology is not studied it is suffered.” A couple of days ago, while looking over some course work, I found the quote and thought it was an interesting tweet to send out on twitter. My tweets automatically update my facebook status. Facebook theologians are always standing by – and it touched off a flurry of theological statements regarding whether our call to follow Christ involved personal suffering or not. I felt it was important enough for further reflection.
First, here is what I meant by “Theology is not studied it is suffered.” We do not study theology like other academic pursuits. Theology is personal it asks something of us. We do not study God. We enter into relationship with God. This relationship is both the sweetest thing and the most difficult for us. Just looking at the Cross of Jesus we know that the Father will stop at nothing to save us.
Reflections on the theological question, “Is Christianity a religion of suffering?”
Both the Old and New Testament spend a lot of time dealing with the reality of suffering. A quick glance at Jeremiah, Habakkuk, Job and the Psalms will see that the Old Testament does not shy away from the pain of loss, doubt and suffering that the people of God experienced. But the New Testament also has much to say regarding suffering.
We are not used to this message and to be quite honest there are churches that will drop the passages that talk about what following Christ is going to cost us from their daily readings, Sunday Gospels and sermon series. I could name names but let’s not get ugly. But even a brief overview of the New Testament teaching reveals that we do not want what the disciples wanted or what Jesus said would be ours if we followed him.
“Take up your cross and keep on following after me.” Mark 8:34
“In this world you will have tribulation. But be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
“I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like him in His death.” Phil 3:10
“Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory.” Romans 8:17
“But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed.” 1 Peter 4:1
“So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me His prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.” 1Timothy 1:8
“Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance.” Romans 5:3
Many people today have started to believe that Jesus wants me to have a life of ease and plenty and if things are difficult or I experience suffering then the Lord has removed his mercy, life, peace and maybe my salvation from me. People ask, “If my life is difficult why doesn’t the Lord love me anymore?” How ridiculous are we? We need to look to Jesus the author and perfector of our faith who for the joy set before Him endured the cross! Our difficult task is to rely on him more when we suffer and know that following Him will cost us. Buckle up, because there is no real Christianity without suffering. We will have joy but it will be through the cross.
Flannery O’Conner said, “What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is a cross.”