The philosopher Stanley Cavell says we need a place separate from ourselves where we can put our suffering. “Stego“, one of the New Testament Greek words often translated “bear”, as in “bear the cross” or “bear up under suffering”, supports Cavell’s observation. Its spectrum of meaning – conceal, protect, cover – evokes a place apart.
Unprotected, within easy reach, the experience of suffering succumbs to our immense capacity for nursing the grievances which justify “survival instincts” like lashing out or hunkering down. Set apart, covered, protected, though, suffering takes its place on the arc of God’s redemptive work.
For us, the set apart place is Christ: “Rock of ages, cleft for me; let me hide myself in thee.” In prayer, we entrust our own suffering to the Suffering Servant himself, concealing and protecting it in the wounds of his risen yet still riven body. Then the Servant reflects it back to us, no longer as a grievance to nurse but as a component of His own passion. We bear our own suffering with and through Him, for the sake of the world’s redemption.
In this way, suffering leads to endurance (here understood as a rough equivalent of stego, bearing); endurance, in turn, engenders character, then hope. Upcoming reflections will explore the last two steps of this path, laid out by Paul in his Letter to the Romans.