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Please Don’t Dare Trivialize Suffering

I’ve got a problem. Someone has said, “Many want God’s anointing… But they don’t want the crushing that produces the oil.” These words are set up in front of an olive being crushed in the background, with oil dripping from it.

My problem is multidimensional.

First of all, NONE of us want the crushing. None! Nobody in the Bible wanted the crushing. Not even Jesus – “Father, let this cup pass from me… but your will be done, not mine,” he said. That’s Jesus! No sane human being wants the crushing, and indeed it’s only those who truly have suffered who know this. Suffering ought never be trivialised or set up as some legalistic qualification to do ministry for God. Sure, it does qualify many, but not all.

To trivialise suffering in this way sets those who suffer well as superior in their ability to bear suffering – that superiority is not virtuous, it’s pride. How does the person feel who doesn’t suffer well? Is there encouragement for them in this?

Second, God doesn’t bring the crushing as if he is some sadistic growth-forcer. That’s the opposite of our God in Jesus – who took the crushing for us per Isaiah 53. This quote subverts the good theology of the cross with something that sounds biblical but isn’t. Never have I seen Scripture treat suffering crassly. There’s allowance for lament and I read empathy and encouragement for the suffering. That’s why verses like Romans 5:1-5 and James 1:2-4 are always uplifting when we’re at our rock bottom.

Third, what does this say for abuse and trauma victims who are sometimes more or less bound to suffering for life? They’ve had their identities malformed and restoration takes not only time, and in many cases is a life work, it regularly takes them into the despair that can cause them to self-harm and suicide.

Fourth, in our very-me world, there is such a hunger to find ways of meaning around suffering. It’s as if resilience through suffering is as important today as the topic of heaven and hell was in the 1970s and 1980s. It skews our theology, because we have grown to idolise the comfortable life.

Fifth, the quote makes out that gaining God’s anointing is to be something of a conquest – that it must be hard won by crushing, for how else can the oil of God’s cup come? This not only sets God up as the ‘crusher’ (supposedly for our own good), which is a potentially abusive theology, it makes faith something to be acquired, i.e. what other purpose does faith have but to receive God’s anointing? Let me say that in my view, anyone who has faith in Jesus Christ already has God’s anointing. It’s not about us and what we do or don’t do, it’s all about Jesus and what he’s done. There is a danger that’s crept into Christianity, where it’s become about what we can get out of God. True Christianity is about what God can get out of us as we live for God’s glory. Now, the word “crushing” can too easily be distorted as a good thing, and potentially, and more probably I’m sure, a justification for abuse.

Don’t anyone dare trivialise suffering. Jesus went to the cross so that we would be relieved of the ultimate in suffering – he took care of the eternal judgement of hell for the true believer.

We cannot afford to be flippant about the idea of suffering, for there are far too many people who suffer and have no simple recourse to it being alleviated.

What do we say to the person in chronic pain? With ongoing clinical depression? With trauma from sexual abuse? Or, someone facing the end of life as it was through loss? And what about the person who has special needs? The list runs on. Come on, Christian, get a grip, and deal with these matters with the utmost respect and empathy.

The olive tree or branch as much stands as a symbol of peace. Pray that those who are suffering would have peace – don’t tell them to just bear their crushing as if it’s nothing!

When we say, “bring on the crushing, Lord, I want your anointing” we make an idol of our suffering and what we can get from it. Can God use it? Yes. But it only works when we magnify God, and not our suffering, ‘the crushing’, and ‘our anointing’.

I find that the most important anointing people can receive from God is evident through their compassion. And compassion, I find, is formed in the person acquainted with suffering, who neither glorifies nor despises it, but has endured it or perhaps continues to endure it, and the person who frequently fails to endure it but endeavours.

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