One Thing I'm Pretty Sure Jesus Wasn't Thinking on the Cross

When I'm driving I usually have the radio tuned to a Christian music radio station. Recently the DJ on the station said, “God will not protect you from something he can use to perfect you.” (That may not be an exact direct quote but as best as I can remember it.) In general I agree with that statement. God's purpose is not simply that we live pleasant, easy lives filled with non-stop laughter and happiness. His purpose is to transform us into the likeness of Jesus, whose life served as an example of the way we are to live. So if God can use hardships to shave off our self-reliance, or impatience, or arrogance he will because that's the greater good than our momentary happiness. Yet God doesn't do so as an uninvolved spectator, sitting back and watching to see how we perform. He walks with us through life's hardships, letting them do their work upon us, all while he sustains us until the trials have passed.

As I thought more about the DJ's statement I questioned an underlying assumption upon which it is based, an assumption that is flawed, yet often taken for granted. When difficult times come we often wonder what God is trying to teach us. I understand that mindset. I remember a time I was struggling and I said to God, “If you're trying to teach me something in this, then make it stick so I never have to go through it again.” The belief is that we go through experiences either 1) for our joy, or 2) for our growth. That is based on the assumption that the experience is only about us. Maybe sometimes we go through hardships to bless others.

Jesus's life was focused on serving God and serving others. He didn't go through life asking, “What's in this for me?” Yet if Jesus had the mindset that we often have he would have been continually asking, “God, why are you doing this to me? Is it to bless me or teach me something?” Jesus' life purpose wasn't himself. When he was hanging on the cross he wasn't wondering, “What am I supposed to be getting out of this experience?” It is true that Jesus did gain something from his suffering. The writer of Hebrews says that Jesus “learned obedience from what he suffered” and was “made perfect” (Hebrews 5:8,9) but his going to the cross was for the good of others, not himself.

I believe that sometimes we go through hardships because God is using us to serve others. Think of a soldier sent to complete a mission under miserable conditions. He understands he is there for something larger than himself. The same is true of disciples of Jesus. When we acknowledge and submit to the Lordship of Jesus that means our life goal changes from serving ourselves to being used by Jesus for his purposes. Sometimes following Jesus involves pleasant experiences; sometimes it does not. Either way the deeper purpose is what matters most, even when the benefit isn't for me.

Curtis Williams