On Suffering, Part 3: From Thomas Merton

2 Corinthians 4:8-11
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

Each Tuesday, our Wesley UMC staff engages in time of spiritual formation. We have been journeying through Thomas Merton’s, No Man is an Island. I’m posting the excerpts from Merton as we discuss suffering, which has always been difficult for me to process and understand. Maybe, as Merton points out, I’m too selfish.

Excerpts from Thomas Merton’s No Man is an Island, Chapter 5: The Word of the Cross: On Suffering (Part 3)
• Heroism alone in the face of suffering is useless, unless it is born of God. Divine strength is not usually given us until we are fully aware of our own weakness and know that the strength we receive is indeed received: and that is a gift. The fortitude that comes is from God. It is God’s strength, which is beyond comparison and not complicated by pride.
• To know the Cross is to know that we are saved by the sufferings of Christ; to know the love of Christ who underwent suffering and death in order to save us. To know God’s love is not merely to know the story of His love, but to experience in our spirit that we are loved by Him, and that in His love the Father manifests His own love for us, through the Holy Spirit.
• The effect of suffering upon us depends on what we love. If we love ourselves selfishly, suffering is merely hateful. It must be avoided at all costs. It brings out the evil that is in us. The person who loves only themselves will commit any sin and inflict any evil on others merely in order to avoid suffering himself/herself. Worse, if one cannot avoid suffering, they may even take perverse pleasure in suffering itself – showing that they love and hate themselves all at the same time. If we love ourselves selfishly, suffering brings out selfishness. Then after making known what we are, suffering drives us to make ourselves worse than we are.
• If we love others and suffer for them without the love of God, we may gain a certain nobility and goodness. It may bring out something fine in us and even give glory to God, but in the end a natural unselfishness cannot prevent suffering from destroying us along with all we love.
• But, if we love God and love others in Him, we will be glad to let suffering destroy anything in us that God is pleased to let it destroy, because we know that all it destroys is unimportant. If we love God, suffering does not matter. Christ in us, His love, His Passion in us: that is what we care about. Pain does not cease to be pain, but we can be glad of it because it enables Christ to suffer in us and give glory to His Father by being greater, in our hearts, than suffering would ever be.

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