Is knowing Christ in suffering a great good?

  • Clarifying the question

    Is it good to know God and Christ through suffering, relating to him as a co-sufferer? Is this intimacy through shared experience, this ability to identify with one another, this new empathetic relationship with God whereby we suddenly know Him better, something valuable?

“Yes, after all…
  • It is good to know God in general

    It is good to know God in general, and in all God's aspects.1 This is relevant because knowing God through suffering gives one unique access to knowing God in a way that is otherwise unattainable.

    Alvin Plantinga (Philosophy professor at Notre Dame): “…it is a good thing that the followers of Christ share in his sufferings because this is a means of fellowship with him at a very profound level and a way in which they achieve a certain kind of solidarity with him. … perhaps all of us who suffer will welcome the opportunity in retrospect … it also enhances the image of God in them. ” [“Supralapsarianism, or 'O Felix Culpa'” in Christian Faith and the Problem of Evil eds. Van Inwagen (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2004), 18.]

    Laura Ekstrom (Philosophy professor at William & Mary): “Suffering itself is an experience that one shares with the divine agent, and so it may serve as an avenue to knowledge of, and intimacy with, God. Viewed in this light, human suffering might be taken to be a kind of privilege in that it allows one to share in some of the experience of God, thus giving one a window into understanding his nature. For the Christian, in particular, occasions of enduring rejection, pain and loss can be opportunities for identification with the person of Jesus Christ. Intimacy with Christ gained through suffering provides deeper appreciation of his passion. I understand the notion of intimacy or identification with Christ in a sympathetic rather than a mystical sense.” [“A Christian Theodicy,” in The Blackwell Companion to the Problem of Evil (Blackwell, 2013), 279.]

    1. We know that knowledge of God is good for several reasons. For example,
      (a) It is intuitively recognized, and rational intuition is a legitimate way of coming to knowledge.
      (b) We know it from the testimony of those in fellowship with Christ.
      (c) We know it from the testimony of scripture. [See below.]
    2. For examples of scriptures testifying to the good of knowing God:

      Philippians 3:10-11 -- I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

      2 Corinthians 4:8-11 -- we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh

      1 Peter 4:12-13 -- Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.

      2 Corinthians 1:3-7 -- Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer; and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort.

      Colossians 1:24 -- Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. Psalm 22:24 -- For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; Nor has He hidden His face from him; But when he cried to Him for help, He heard.

      2 Corinthians 12:7-10 -- Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.

      Romans 8:35 -- Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

    3. Elsewhere Ekstrom writes,

      “If God is passible in emotion, then there is something that a person could not know about God if she did not suffer, one aspect of God's being that would remain entirely mysterious.” [“Suffering as Religious Experience,” in Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology 7th edition, eds. Pojman & Rea (Cengage Learning, 2013), 367.]
      And on the other hand: Hebrews 4:15 -- For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.