Brad, Teresa of Avila, one in a million, when it comes to personal holiness, found herself in the mud. She was thrown off her carriage and asked God why? God answered, “This is how I treat all my friends.” The sainted Avila replied, “Then Lord, it is not surprising that you have so few friends.” When Paul wrote, “To Live is Christ and to Die is Gain,” Paul was living in his own mud puddle. He had more than his share of personal tragedy. If you read snapshots of life (cf, 2 Cor 4), he wasn’t pursuing his version of the American Dream.
St. Paul wasn’t pursuing his version of the American Dream.
Karen, If friendship with God equals suffering, I think we need to reevaluate which side of the resurrection we are living. People long for the abundant life. Paul said, “To Live is Christ.” He also said, “I can do all things through Christ that strengthens me.” God is the God of freedom and deliverance. Even if life goes south, the prospect of the Day of Christ is so great (cf. Phil 1:6, 10-11) that it makes life’s puddles seem endurable.
Which side of the Resurrection are we living?
Brad, Can we view life like Paul and see our sufferings as a sign of God’s favor? We are like Christ in that we suffer just like Jesus suffered! Paul told the Philippians that the “enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly and whose glory is in their shame, who set their mind on earthly things.” Those who teach there is no suffering in the Christian life are enemies of the Gospel. Suffering is God’s way of preparing us for our future glory.
The best gift we can give our children is a “How to Guide to Suffer.”
Some believe Paul wasn’t going through an existential crisis but responding to the Greek philosophy of suffering. One Greek philosopher, Euripides wrote: “What gain is life to me? There is no country for me, no home, nor escape from troubles. ” (Euripides, Medea 798-799). Plato famously wrote, “But it is clear to me that it was better for me to be dead and freed from problems. (Plato, Apology 41D). When Paul said, “For Me to Live is Christ” and “to die is gain,” he baptized the Greek view of suffering into the mind of Christ.
God’s goal for man is glory.
Karen, God’s goal for man is glory. If man rebels and says no to God’s plan, instead of sharing in God’s glory, he gets destruction. Paul encourages the Philippians to set their lives on full kingdom throttle because the worst-case scenario turns out to be the best of all possible worlds. Death, for those free from sin, is an immediate invitation to the presence of Christ. We may not have our resurrection bodies, but we are immediately in Christ’s presence. When the clouds of despair roll in and you are stuck in the mud, look to your future glory and your future gain.