Restoration within suffering

The coming judgment of Christ will not be based on the works of the perpetrator but on the “suffering of the sufferers,” according to Jürgen Moltmann. In his newest book, Sun of Righteousness Arise, he writes, “The image of the end-time ‘fire’ has nothing to do with the stake or with the apocalyptic destruction of the world through fire. It is an image for God’s love, which burns away everything which is contrary to God, so that the person whom God has created will be saved.”1

Often as I read, the conceptual themes take root as an image in my head. As I thought of the life of Jesus, the people He physically touched and the people He scathingly rebuked, a picture of this end-time Christ emerged, this image of Christ as He is now in glory, bathed in His refining fire.

This Christ, present on the dark streets of Bangkok, where we sit with the broken and suffering nightly, came to mind. His presence would pierce the darkness, illuminating the entire street and creating a contrast of light and dark. I can see His hand gently reach to the cheek of a woman as He lovingly wipes away a tear. The light of Christ would shine on her, causing her eyes to shine bright. Her cheek is cleansed as His light wipes away the traces of a broken life. The presence of Christ makes her radiant. With her, His pure light is gentle, loving; it washes over her, cleansing, purifying and illuminating her.

The light floods past this woman, illuminating everything around, and I see a man. The light rushes over him, as a hurricane-force wind painfully crushes his cheek, disfiguring his face. His eyes are seared, the light pierces through his being, and it is almost like I can see the soul within the man. The violating presence of this light causes him to stoop, gripping his heart that has been penetrated to the core; he vomits as the light crushes everything evil out of him. His brain is squeezed as every evil thought is purged. The darkness is quickly disintegrated, cleansed, purified. A new man begins to emerge.

Most of the women working on the streets here have long ago had their hearts ripped open; shame has long since replaced pride; they give themselves rather than take; they are walked on rather than trample others; they are alone and vulnerable. They have physically been beaten, having their stomachs crushed with fists. For years now, they have had their eyes, their heads and their bodies subjugated to everyone but themselves. They bear their scars in defensiveness, outward symbols of their lives. They seem, at first glance, dirty, contemptible, hardened, a bit harsh maybe — but those things are easily washed away as Christ’s light replaces the emptiness inside with His defining love.

However, most of us wear our darkness deep inside. Like this man, we look clean, pure, even holy; but our eyes seek someone to own. We use our minds to plot our manipulations. Our needs and control drive our thirst, and our insatiable appetite causes us to destroy. But we walk around with a false light, being applauded, maybe even acclaimed for our works. Allowing the darkness to take a deeper root leads us to further barricade our own self deep within. We struggle against suffering because it undermines our control; we are made vulnerable, naked. Suffering reveals our deep dependency on Christ.

1 Jürgen Moltmann, Sun of Righteousness, Arise!: God’s Future for Humanity and the Earth (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, May 2010).

amy-hupe-dscn3998_2Amy went on a Servant Team to WMF Peru in 2000, where God opened her heart to human exploitation in Thailand. She now serves with her family, among families on the streets of the Bangkok red-light districts. She loves calling the beautifully diverse country of Thailand home!

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