In the changing cultural times Christians have to be careful not to give themselves too high a suffer score. For to do so both belittles the suffering of Christians in ages past and, all too sadly, of many of God’s people around the world today not gifted with the chance to live in the West.
And, as we have seen in recent years, that when we showcase “our suffering” when people don’t like us, mock us, or even push through laws that disenfranchise certain among us, it starts to look like bleating. When the pagan sinful world reacts the way it does, we ought to be careful not to get into a “woe is me” mentality.
Surely we should not mind being mocked and pilloried. It’s part of the Christian deal right? We should never make our suffer score out to be more than it actually is.
Oh, do you know what I mean by suffer score by the way? If you cycle or run and you upload your activities on to the Strava site you will be given a suffer score based on your heart rate. The higher the suffer score the higher the effort level that you had to sustain over an extended period of time. Simply put, it scores how much you suffer.
Your heart rate is divided into five different zones depending on age and resting heart rate, beginning with Z1 Easy right through to Z5 Anaerobic.
So easy or shorter runs have a low suffer score. Hard or long runs have a high suffer score. A bit like this:
That was my treadmill run today at the hotel we had to book after our flight was cancelled. A short sharp run, with ten minutes in the red zone (Z4) as I upped the pace to get rid of my frustrations, but generally pretty good. My biggest suffer was not getting home today, but the plush hotel and great gym made up for it. First World problem right there.
Now compare it with this:
A higher suffer score so a bit tougher. Indeed it says exactly that – tough! But that’s only because of the distance being longer – it didn’t feel tough. It was a slow long run and in the moderate Z2 zone, so a bit irritating, but no biggie. it just took more time on my feet to complete.
Now contrast both of those with this:
It is what it says: Epic. I’d like to claim it as my own, but it’s actually the suffer score of the great Steve Way, a British late adopter to ultra running who went from a 116kg smoker and pie eater ten years ago, to the Commonwealth Game Marathon at the age of forty and then to a top ten finish this last July in the fabled Comrades Ultra Marathon in South Africa. That’s his Comrades suffer score right there. If you’re a runner you might like to check that pace – 4 minutes per kilometre. For 87 of them.
Watching Steve finish that race on TV was emotional. He ran up the final kilometre (staggered up it), was handed a rose for the last 500 metres (the top ten get the gold medal and a rose), and with joy in his face and his arms raised above his head, crossed the line to cheers and congratulations.
There is no doubt about it. He suffered. It WAS epic!
Folks, with all of the issues we face in the West, the declining cultural frame, the hostility from elites and educators towards the Christian frame, the possible legislative implications for Christian groups flowing on from the likely Yes vote for same sex marriage, it’s easy to think that we’re in the Steve Way epic suffer score.
It would be easy to have a pity party. Or worse still, an anger party in which we invite self righteousness and indignation along for some drinks. We need to check that urge. And there’s a biblical mandate for doing so. The pushback against the Jewish Christians we read of in the book of Hebrews was more extreme than we have suffered. In was legislative and it included confiscations and rejection. But the writer doesn’t put it in the Epic category.
Notice was the writer says in chapter 12:
Consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, or lose heart when He rebukes you.…
In other words their suffer score was not in the Epic category. Not in the category of shedding their blood yet. That may have been coming, but to that point it had been Jesus who had suffered like that, not them. Indeed the writer points out that they should consider the suffer score of Jesus, and take heart from that. And further to that, their suffering was a way for God to discipline his people.
It’s not to say that they had not suffered in the past. Indeed the writer says in chapter 10:
But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, 33 sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. 34 For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.
Yet look what their higher suffer score led to back then? Compassion, joy, and a hopeful confidence in the age to come.
How would the writer to the Hebrews rate our suffer score? I am not sure he would rate it all that highly. And he would likely be surprised at the reaction of many to that suffering. He would be looking for signs of compassion, joy and hope in the midst of it all. He would be looking for a glimpse of the eagerness to identity with the true sufferer – our Messiah King the Lord Jesus, who we are told in chapter 12:
for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
I do not know what suffer score we will face in the future. I have grave misgivings about where the West is headed and the spiral in our ethical frame and the loss of a common humanising narrative, but we are not in Epic territory yet. And I fully intend to call out some of the hypocrisy of the hard secular frame which enjoys the fruit of many centuries of the gospel, but rejects the root of the gospel that enabled the fruit to grow. I won’t be backing down on calling that out.
But that’s different to assuming we have a right not to suffer. And even when we are suffering, then it’s a time to think back to Steve Way. To remember that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who went before us and who testify in Scripture to the joy of the age to come. Steve Way ran for a rose (that withered) and a gold medal (that will one day fade away). But it’s the look on his face as he ran up past the cheering crowds in Durban that should remind us how we should finish the race whatever the level of suffering. For the joy is all before us!
Truly epic eh?