Sandwiched here between the two Easter commemorations this week, we’ve been granted a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the sufferings of Jesus. This opportunity comes from an unlikely source: Rep. Steve King.
King spoke at a town hall this week and fielded a question about the fear that Christians were being persecuted in the United States. (You have my symathies.) King took the question a step further, looking away from the hardships of American Christians and tuning instead to his own personal tribulations:
When I have to step down to the floor of the House of Representatives, and look up at those 400-and-some accusers — you know we just passed through Easter and Christ’s passion — and I have better insight into what He went through for us, partly because of that experience.
King no doubt has suffered. He is reviled by Democrats and held at arm’s length by Republicans, has been stripped of his committee assignments, and was the implicit subject of a censorious resolution on the House floor. But not all suffering is cruciform.
Throughout the New Testament, Christians are warned that they may face sufferings. Jesus warned of it before he ever arrived at the cross and, in the aftermath, Christians suffered more than enough to make it a common refrain in the epistles. For our purposes, the most instructive passage comes from 1 Peter 3:
Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.
For Christ also suffered[a] once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous…
We are encouraged in our suffering precisely because Christ has suffere, and we are exhorted to be fearless as long as our suffering is in the mold of Christ’s. What is cruciform suffering? There are two criteria (mentioned in this passage): suffering for doing good rather than doing evil and suffering on behalf of others. When we face trials under these conditions they are to our credit–to our ultimate credit even.
But Steve King isn’t suffering for doing what’s right. In the most generous reading of events, he is suffering for doing what’s impolitick. He made some less than condemnatory comments about white nationalism and white supremacy…on the record…to the New York Times. (And it’s not the first time he’s tipped his cards either.) Suffering for being racially insensitive, for being bad at your job, or for being an out-and-out racist is not the same as suffering for doing right.
As we think about the suffering of Jesus in this Easter season, it’s worth putting our day to day trials (even those things we think of as persecutions) into perspective.