From Scott Cairns’ book The End of Suffering:
Well, the story goes that He has descended into the very thick of it.
The story goes that He remains in the very thick of it.
In mystical synergia, He collaborates with His Body, now and ever. In appalling condescension, He remains Emmanuel, God with us. Whereas we had brought only death and brokenness to that mix, He has brought life and wholeness.
…He did not save Himself, but gather gave Himself.
He did not come simply to rid the Jews of the oppressive Romans any more than He came to trump the other oppressive circumstances that His oddly beloved creatures have continued to construct for themselves and others. On the contrary, He came to suffer the results of those cosmic bad choices with us, and by so doing to both show us how we might survive them and to enable our survival—in Himself.
That is to say, He did not come here to undo our choices, but to move through them victoriously, and to show us how we might likewise move. He did not come to eclipse us, or to overrule our persons. On the contrary, He came to endow our persons with the self-same unending life.
“I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church” (Col. 1:24).
…A more likely translation seems to me to be what is yet to be done.
In any case, this does not exactly solve our puzzle. One is very likely still to ask, what is yet to be done?
What is it that Saint Paul and the rest of us are expected to supply?
Could it be ourselves?
The very heart of an efficacious faith, it seems to me now, is bound up precisely in our—watchfully—living into this mystery of what appears to be God’s continuing desire for collaboration between Himself and His creation.
From Adam’s naming of the animals through each successive patriarch, prophet, and holy man or woman, God has shown a predilection for working with His people, as opposed to simply working on them. God is intent, generation after generation on ﬁnding one or more of us to suffer the chore with Him. They may or may not always be the best specimens—Moses, Abraham, Lot, David, etc.—but their success is inevitably bound up with their complying with His will, and colluding with it. We find instances of this dynamic collaboration throughout our biblical texts and throughout their surrounding traditions.
One chief instance that comes to mind is illustrated in the Gospel dialogue that accompanies the event we call the Annunciation—that most curious exchange between the Archangel Gabriel and the Theotokos—and I glimpse in that fascinating give-and-take the Holy Mother’s necessary concurrence with the angelic messenger’s announcement. The angel reveals to her the message from on high, and she replies, “Behold the majdservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word” (Lk. 1:38).
The point is, she said yes to God’s messenger. One despairs to think what would have become of us if she had said no.
…What, then, has yet to be done? What—so far as you are concerned—is the nature of this odd-seeming isterimata that gives Saint Paul cause to rejoice even in the midst of suffering?
You’ll probably have to tell me.
I suspect that, just as each of us is unique in the eyes of our God Who loves us, each of us also will ﬁnd a unique remedy for our separation from Him. Each of us will discover-—and either will bear or will shirk—a unique cross.
What the fathers and mothers of the church have taught me is that inevitably each of us will, in one or in a number of ways, partake of Christ’s suffering, and that these experiences will help us to apprehend all the more how we are both joined to Him and how we are joined to each other.
We may well have occasion to ask—as Christ Himself asked—that the cup be taken away, but we will fare far better if that request is followed by “yet not my will, but Your will be done.” We will fare far better if, like the Theotokos, we answer the call of the messenger, saying, “Behold the servant of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word.”