Updated: Nov 6, 2020
The Time of Suffering
It has been a while since my last post, although it feels as though it has been much longer, or perhaps not nearly as long. When the externals of life have changed very little and the internals a great deal, time ebbs and flows in a pattern befitting of the Twilight Zone. It has been about five months since I last posted about the loss of our child. We still have no child to hold in our arms. We still have no (particular) child we anticipate holding. I'm still working full-time at a job for which I am thankful, but that does not match my training or passions. Life is the same, but life is different.
Since my last post, we have lost at least three more children, bringing us to a total of at least five awaiting us in glory. This is different. To some, it may seem to be much of the same, as if five miscarriages were merely a singular, prolonged plight. We have come to learn that sentiments such as this are fairly common, even among those who would otherwise claim to affirm the human dignity of each child in the womb. In truth, we have lost at least five individual children. This means five individual losses, in addition to the disappointment of not yet having any children to raise. Furthermore, each loss unfolds with its own trajectory of suffering. We are still processing each one.
The externals have stayed the same, but the internals are worlds apart.
Provided we suffer with him
I don't write these things so you will feel sorry for us. I write these things as a prologue to the heart of this post, which beats with the life found only through faithful suffering. When Christians talk about the value of suffering, it can almost sound trite, and often it is, but these are lessons that I have learned through experience, driven through the crucible of faith.
"The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him" (Romans 8:16-17).
If we are children of God, we are heirs of God with Christ, provided that we suffer with him. It is the suffering of Christ that redeems and atones for the brokenness of this world. If we, broken as we are, are to be redeemed into the family of God, we must participate in his suffering. I can't speak for other traditions, but I have found that Protestants often view the atonement of Christ in entirely vicarious terms, i.e. that Christ merely represents our sin on the cross. Prosperity theologians are found on the extreme side of this perspective, arguing that Christ suffered so we don't have to. Because Christ suffered, some claim, Christians are entitled to live in health, wealth, and prosperity. "Claim Christ in faith and you will be free from disease! Want a promotion at work? Claim Christ in faith! Did your child die? Well, things would have been different if you just asserted more faith!" [Yes, this last one has been said to us in the wake of our losses.] In defense of prosperity theologians, it is written, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me" (Matthew 4:9).
Oh wait, that was Satan talking. What does Scripture actually teach?
"Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead" (Philippians 3:8-11) Christ did not merely suffer for us, although he certainly did that. In faith mysterious, we must participate in the suffering of Christ. Perhaps we were not physically on the cross with him, but every distorted, sin-stained occurrence that was ever to be offered up in faith was there. This includes our sorrow, our sin, and the general corruption of the created order.
When we suffer in faith, our suffering is identified with the crucified Christ, who is our glory and our salvation. This is what it means to share in his sufferings. In our faithful suffering, our wounds are his wounds. This is why we are able to not merely endure suffering, but consider it joy: in our suffering we identified with Christ. I know I'm being highly repetitive, but beautiful truths deserve repetition, lest we let them slip by unnoticed. Should we seek suffering? No. Should we pray that our suffering be alleviated? Yes. When God removes our sufferings, we receive a foretaste of the future glory when, to borrow words from Samwise Gamgee, all sad things become untrue. However, even then, we still live in a world of sorrow that is ever in the shadow of the grave. In the end, suffering is not an option for the Christian, but a necessary part of life. Even further, it is the entryway to true life. If we scorn suffering, seeing it merely as a tool of the devil or symptomatic of a lack of faith, then we scorn the cross of Christ. When Peter scorned the cross, Christ rebuked him as a pawn of Satan. So would it be said to the prosperity preachers of today.
How does this relate to our miscarriages?
Our children died. Our ambition to raise children has gone unmet thus far. We still believe that we are called to be parents, but we recognize that our future is not determined by our assertions, but rather by the loving providence of God, who works all things for his glory, which is our good. Whether we ever have children or not, our suffering does not lead us to despair. Yes, we struggle, but, on the most fundamental level, we press into the wounds of Christ, which are deep enough to hold every faithful sorrow and raise them to glorious joy.
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