And He said to them, “Elijah does first come and restore all things. And yet how is it written of the Son of Man that He will suffer many things and be treated with contempt? Mark 9:12 NASB
Suffer – When did Yeshua ask this question? The context is critical. He asks this question as He is descending from the mount of transfiguration. Do you see the irony? Immediately following the moment when the disciples witness His glorious divinity, He asks them about the necessity of suffering. The moment after they see for the first time that He is the manifestation of God and is fully endorsed by God, He connects His witness of God with suffering. To be the Christ, the Messiah, is to be the one who suffers. There is no glorification without humiliation.
The Greek verb is pascho. It is basically a verb about experience. But the kinds of experiences that are described by pascho are those that come over someone. They are from the outside. They “attack” the person. That’s why this verb is almost always used for evil experiences. In the Greek world, “passion” was a terrible thing. It meant that the suffering of others, the plight and tragedies of life, could turn toward you and you would fall prey to their indiscriminate punishment. We have the same idea in our culture today, except that we call it “fate.” The Greeks took two different approaches to the wiles of fate. The first was to be hedonists. Throw yourself into all of life’s pleasures so that when life turns on you at least you have something good to remember. The second was stoicism. Do your very best to remove every possibility of emotional disturbance. Go through pascho with resolve. Don’t feel anything! Those two approaches are alive and well today. How many of us either run to addictive cover when things get bad or grit our teeth and pretend it isn’t happening? Greeks through and through.
But what does the Bible say? Ah, now we encounter something quite unusual. There is no Hebrew word for pascho. In the New Testament, pascho occurs 42 times, almost always in connection with the sufferings of Yeshua. It never occurs in citations from the Tanakh. Of course, the Tanakh has a lot to say about suffering. It uses hamal (to feel compassion – Ezekiel 16:5) and halah (to be affected – Amos 6:6) most of the time. But the view of the Tanakh is very different than the Greek idea of an outside attack on a person. That’s why pascho doesn’t fit. In the Tanakh, suffering is usually the result of the inherent consequences of an evil act. In other words, evil doesn’t attack from the outside. It shows up as a result of inner actions. And it is not always individual. Entire nations can experience the inherent consequences of national disobedience and rebellion. But none of this is gratuitous. Evil doesn’t just happen. In the biblical world, God is behind all actions in history. God uses all history to accomplish His purposes. Providence is the final explanation of all suffering, and that explanation is usually clouded in mystery.
We suffer. We suffer because we sin. We suffer because others sin. We suffer because the world is filled with sin. We are responsible for much of our own suffering. But when we cannot see the connection between our suffering and our actions, we are assured that God is behind all of it. How He is behind it we do not know, but that does not diminish the insistence that He is behind it. Why He does what He does we do not know, but that does not diminish our requirement to trust Him. We are not privileged to see the big picture, but there is a big picture and it is seen by a God who cares for His creation. And that will have to be enough for the time being.
There is a very good reason why Yeshua ties glorification to suffering. In this world, suffering vicariously is the path to glory. It is of little righteous consequence when we suffer for our own disobedience. Such suffering only proves that we are not immune to the structure of the universe. But vicarious suffering, the willingness to take on the consequences that belong to another, has righteous effect. That models God. And that is the purpose of being His servant.
Perhaps you could spend a minute sorting out the suffering in your life that is the consequence of your own disobedience or the disobedience of others from the suffering that you willingly take on in place of another. Then you will know where you are acting like a Greek and where you are serving God.
Topical Index: suffer, pascho, hamal, halah, Mark 9:12, glory