Hebrews 2:10 reads: “It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through suffering.” The Greek word used here is teleio. This word can mean perfect, but a better translation (given our modern connotations of that word) would be complete or whole. If you’ve been working on a 5000 piece puzzle and you fit in the last few pieces, then the puzzle has reached its telos – its intended end or purpose. It is now complete, whole, perfect. You can see the full image in all its beauty and complexity and the puzzle has and is fulfilling its purpose.
Jesus needed to suffer not because suffering itself is a means to perfection, but because without that Jesus would not be complete as our mediator. Jesus-as-God-in-flesh must undergo the full human experience, which includes suffering and death. Only then is Jesus complete, whole, perfect. Only then is the puzzle of the Messiah finished. Jesus even said from the cross, “It is finished.” This was not an affirmation of suffering itself, but a declaration that through his own suffering on the cross he had achieved full and final union with humanity, and thus was able to redeem the fullness of humanity not in his death but through conquering death in the resurrection.
Unfortunately, this one verse has been used by the church for two millenia to justify the use of suffering as a means to sanctification and perfection of the followers of Jesus. This is blasphemy. We already suffer. If human suffering could have been redemptive then we would not have needed Jesus to join fully divinity and humanity in one being. You do not need to suffer to experience God’s salvation. Christ has suffered for you.
And yet, Jesus also calls us to take up our cross and follow him. The author of Hebrews references the sufferings of his own audience (10:32-39). He states explicitly that “[Jesus] had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect…” including “sharing in their flesh and blood” and thus their sufferings. (2:14-18)
Biblical perfection – “Be perfect as God is perfect” (Matthew 5:48) – means to be mature, whole and complete, and thus to fulfill one’s end or purpose. It is not about never making mistakes, nor ever changing one’s mind. It is not about flawlessness of speech or skin. This phrase from Matthew could be understood in this way: Seek God’s measure of perfection rather than the world’s measure, for “humans look on the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
God does not seek to shape our hearts by suffering, but to redeem our sufferings. Jesus became “perfect” in that he was fully like us only when he suffered and died, thus making him able to redeem and transform our humanity fully. When we “take up our cross” for the sake of the gospel we are following Jesus’ example of accepting suffering and hardship rather than forsake the calling and turn our backs on those Jesus desires to reach through you and me. God does not will or desire that we suffer. God recognizes that we will, and becomes our ally and advocate by joining fully in our suffering. When we suffer for the sake of the gospel, for the sake of justice and righteousness on behalf of the kingdom of God, then our sufferings become efficacious because they are joined with those of Christ (Colossians 1:24). When we willingly endure suffering for the sake of others this becomes our testimony to them – an extension of Jesus’ own testimony of suffering for the sake of the world. It becomes our solidarity with God-in-Christ and with the world Jesus came to save.
Jesus suffered so that you would not be alone in your suffering, and so that through his own suffering, death and resurrection he might transform all suffering. God does not directly answer the question “Why is there suffering?” or “Why does God allow suffering?”. God’s response to those queries is Jesus. “I am with you. You are not alone. Your suffering is not the final word. Death is not the final word. I will redeem, restore, make new. I have (already) reconciled to myself all things through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.”
We might wish, hope and long for a God who would eliminate suffering. This is fruitless. Rather, we have a God who comes to be one of us, to undergo all things in human experience, and thus is able both to understand and to redeem.
Whatever you’re going through, you are not alone.
God really does understand and really does care.
This is cause for hope. This is Good News.