Friday, November 18, 2011

Power and Its (Seeming) Absence

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.  Phil 3:10-11

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Believers love to celebrate those experiences where God’s power is undeniably tangible:  the mysterious arrival of much needed funds; the unexpected conception of a long-desired child; the healing of a seemingly incurable illness; the salvation of a long-doubting friend.  

Perhaps such occasions are what Paul had in mind as he expressed his desire to know the same power that was present at Christ’s resurrection—those moments where the God reaches into our earthbound existence and provides supernatural transformation.  

As Christ-followers, we seek after these experiences, value them, testify about them.  And rightly so.  For in those moments where his power is visible, tangible, palpable, he feels closer to us.  And we feel closer to him.  I may never experience being raised from the dead, but Paul suggests that it is possible to  experiences give us a taste of the power that was present when Christ arose from the grave.

Yet life also brings events where Christ’s power seems less evident:  struggling unsuccessfully to meet insurmountable financial need; fighting and eventually succumbing to an incurable illness; grieving the heartwrenching loss of a treasured relationship.  

I'm often troubled in the face of such experiences:   If Christ’s power is “real” when he transforms difficult circumstances, what am I to make of those times when that power appears to be absent?  Has he left me alone?  Have I somehow earned his distance?  Was I mistaken to see those more “victorious” moments as evidence of his power in my life?

Though I don’t often view suffering and success as compatible, Paul seems to do just that.  In a single breath, he mentions both the power of Christ’s resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings—as if these two seemingly incongruent ideas are vital parts of a single, unified experience: knowing Christ.

While I often feel far from God during hardships, Paul’s writing suggests that I'm close to him when that power is seemingly absent—indeed, that in those instances where I may not be able to perceive his power, I am actually tasting a tiny drop from the ocean of suffering he endured on my behalf.  Through these fleeting brushes with suffering, I am experiencing fellowship with him.

For as I encounter moments that are difficult, undesirable, insurmountable, scripture suggests that such occurrences may be a way that God is providing the opportunity--the privilege--of sharing in Christ’s very suffering.  And as I experience—maybe even embrace—those moments, I can know something even more powerful than the force of Christ’s resurrection power, something truly transforming: a deep, abiding fellowship with the person of Jesus Christ.

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