…what I want you to notice is that when Paul tells the Colossians in verse 24 that ”˜my suffering is for you’, he does not use the same word. He does not use the word eis. Because suffering is not directed towards anything. It has no constructive purpose. It has no positive teleology. It has no direct place in the economy and providence of God. Left to its own devices, suffering does nothing but inhibit, destroy, disintegrate and embitter ”“ that is its only natural teleology.
We know that because, when Jesus comes across suffering, He does not urge people to accept it as God’s will for them. He does not refuse to heal them on the grounds that God is behind their suffering. He does not refuse to work healing miracles on the grounds that their suffering is doing them good. He assaults their suffering. He declares war on human suffering. He heals their illnesses. His compassion drives Him to undo whatever is holding them back from being the whole, healthy and thriving people He made them to be. (He’s at it again in the story of the ten lepers in Luke 17, which we had as our gospel reading this evening). And Jesus is our window on the person and purpose and providence of God. So we have no mandate to say that God approves what Jesus attacks. Jesus attacks suffering in His ministry, sin on the cross, and death in His resurrection ”“ and God is against all three.
And yet. And yet, somehow, despite that, (v. 24) Paul rejoices in his suffering. Paul rejoices in the inhibiting, destructive, disintegrative and embittering suffering that happens to him in his own flesh. Paul rejoices in that which God hates. We need to feel the dissonance of that. We need to hear it grating. We need to be shocked into the acknowledgement that something unnatural, or, rather, supernatural is going on here. What we have here is the miracle of fruitful suffering.