"That I may know Christ and the power of His resurrection
and the fellowship of His sufferings"
What kind of suffering did Jesus experience?
In English, the word, "suffer" usually brings to mind images of physical pain or agony. In Greek this word is, "Pathema". It means pain that is associated with the capacity and privilege to experience strong emotion.
In our present state as humans in a broken body, our capacity to experience strong emotion is limited. We can experience emotion, and all people do to varying extents and degrees. And our ability to experience emotions can expand when our ability to govern them also expands. We can grow in our ability to feel a broader range of emotions to deeper levels. But this expansion must follow the growth of the fruits of the Spirit. Fortifying ourselves with the fruits is the only way to more fully experience emotions while maintaining control over them and ourselves. Without the fruits of the Spirit, such strength of emotion is often what leads people to commit acts of sin and shocking behavior that are contrary to the Kingdom of Heaven.
The fullness of the fruits of the Spirit originates in and are fully present in God. Likewise the full range of emotions possible and the deepest depths of one capacity to feel them in the purest and most holy form are found in the God-head. God does not fear His emotions because they are contained and expressed in holiness. Humans fear God's emotion, perhaps, because the power of the holiness of God to contain such powerful emotion is incomprehensible.
To our broken minds emotions must be capped in order to be contained and controlled. This is true as long as we are confined to our mortal bodies. But for those in Christ Jesus, whose spirit is alive and who citizenship is in heaven, we have this to look forward to. One day we will experience the fullness of emotions without fear because we will be free from all the evils that presently hijack them and lead us into temptation and sin. We will also be free form all the relationships and circumstances that ignite negative and painful emotion in us now.
So, what is emotional suffering? First, it is the emotions that come to life in us which are a response to all the evils in the world. Second, it is our own limited capacity to experience emotions.
In order to handle more emotions we must practice and increase our capacity for discernment. We must learn to evaluate circumstances and our emotional responses with clarity that comes from being conformed to the truth of God through the scriptures. Knowledge of the truth gives us the intellectual capacity to evaluate and discern the whole of an emotion, identify it, categorize it and deal with it correctly. Being conformed to the truth is what is what increases the strength of the fruits of the Spirit in us. This is the power of the resurrection that enables us to experience the fullness of holy emotion and not be overcome by it. When such strength of character expands the capacity for our emotions, we do not need to be afraid of their power. We can become powerful forces of righteousness by leveraging them to do righteously.
Jesus experienced the fullest range and depth of emotion possible within the human form because He was completely governed by and conformed to the truth and the fruits of the Spirit. The power that resulted changed the world! But the greatness of such a range and depth spanned a gulf of extremes. The ecstasy and fullness of joy and happiness are only possible with the agony of sorrow. These extremes expand simultaneously in opposite directions. The expanse can feel like being pulled apart, stretching beyond comfort to suffering. But the suffering enables the expansion. Resurrection power, let loose in a persons life, will make room for the full range of emotions that are possible in the life of a kingdom citizen on earth.
Every miracle and notable life of every Christian in recorded history is made possible, in part, by this expansion. Let the fruits of the Spirit expand without restriction. Give emotions the attention and discernment they require. Be transformed by the study and application of the Scriptures. And you will experience the power of the resurrection and the fellowship of the suffering of Jesus.
You will expand and you will make room for glory!