There is a difference between saying that someone will suffer and saying that someone should suffer. Jesus promises suffering for those who faithfully follow him, but that doesn’t mean that he thinks people should suffer. When Paul was on the road to Damascus, Jesus appeared to Ananias in a dream and said about Paul, “For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:16 ESV). Jesus was not saying that he hopes Paul would suffer. He didn’t say Paul deserved to suffer. He did, however, said that it was necessary for Paul to suffer.
I’m not so sure that suffering is prescriptive as it is descriptive. In other words, God doesn’t prescribe suffering merely because we follow Christ. But suffering is descriptive of what happens to those of us who are faithful to him. It is necessary for us to suffer as Christians because people will always oppose goodness and righteousness. Evil will always exist. Oppression will always be present. Disease and sickness will always be on the earth.
But how does God respond, and how should we respond to one another? In 2 Corinthians 1, the word “comfort” is used more times than anywhere else in the Bible. Paul was suffering badly, but he was being comforted by God and God’s people. Paul said, “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 may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:3, 4 ESV). Paul says that, just as we share in Christ’s sufferings, we also share in his comfort.
This is a powerful message of hope in the midst of suffering. We should take comfort in the fact that our comfort is contagious. When we are comforted, we are able to comfort others. Paul said, “When we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer” (2 Cor. 1:6).
We have an obligation to share in our sufferings because, when we do, we also share in our comfort! The world would be a more beautiful place if more people were actively comforting one another.