Num 7; 2 Cor 1-2; Psalm 99-101
Paul opens his ‘second’ letter to the Corinthians, following the opening address, with these words
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God.
These are words of great comfort and consolation – and immensely rich and powerful – but I think a word needs to be said about the ‘affliction’ of which Paul speaks, for as becomes apparent he understands it in terms of affliction encountered in the basic Christian condition, discipleship.
There is much affliction that is common to the human condition, but Paul’s words are not addressed to these circumstances, rather he speaks of ‘the sufferings of Christ [being] abundant for us‘. In other words that in the life of faithful discipleship, the community of faith can expect no better than their Lord and Master. The scorn of the world.
Over the years however, as faith has become radically individualised and cerebral – such an emphasis is lost. After all, in a pluralist society who suffers for holding a different set of opinions? When we make friends with the world, rather than with the one who has reconciled himself with the world, we avoid the costly call to discipleship and no little if anything of what it is to enter into Christ’s sufferings.
Furthermore, in two different ways we as Sin directs us, turn the meaning of the story back on ourselves, making ourselves the centre of the story.
One we might understand as the liberal error. We interpret Paul’s words in terms of that general suffering which is common to all, and indeed we so also interpret the Cross of Christ, that it is God entering into the suffering human plight. This is the exact opposite of what Paul has in view here – that we enter into Christ’s sufferings, that we take up our Cross and follow him into a world which is hostile to the Good News.
The other is the Conservative error, which distances the body of Christ from Christ, that denies that we can be involved in Redemptive suffering. It leaves the church as onlookers in the business of Salvation. We are left just called to follow Jesus by holding the ‘right’ set of opinions about him
The Only Christian Faith is enacted faith, performed faith – Faith taking on flesh in the life of the Church.
The Only Christian Life is the Life of Christ, present amongst his people so enacting this costly faith and knowing in their flesh the abundance of Christ’s sufferings.