I believe one of the more confusing things for non-Christians is why Jesus would suffer and die the way He did. It’s not difficult to understand why He was put to death. He’d riled up the authorities and the religious leaders to such an extent that they felt He must be killed. However, when confronted with the news of a willing death, a sacrificial death of extreme physical torture, well, this is hard to comprehend. Why would God in the flesh submit to death on a cross?
The atoning death of Christ Jesus is the great act of redemption for us. This is an overwhelming demonstration of love. When I contemplate this act, this dying for our sins—my sins—it frequently reduces me to tears. Yet, was it necessary for the death to be so brutal? Why did Jesus have to suffer so greatly?
I am confronted by my inadequacy in trying to answer this question. I think I understand why we need a savior. It is all too apparent that I am incapable of saving myself. Everywhere I look I see others facing the same dilemma.
The nature of Jesus’ death and the kind of anguish He experienced makes me sad. More than that, it bends my heart toward compassion. No one can ever say that God does not know what it is like to suffer. Jesus knew pain. He experienced great suffering first-hand. The actual separation from God the Father during the crucifixion must have been the utmost agony. We are told that Christ took upon Himself all the sins of the world, and at that moment of sacrifice, He was apart from God.
Our own pain when we feel distant and separated from God is hard enough. Imagine what it must be like to be one with the Father and for that time of atonement, to not have that blessed union.
As we ponder why the Son of God suffered and died, we can’t help but contemplate our own suffering, or that of others. Why is the world so full of suffering? Is there a point to it all?
I must confess I’ve spent a great deal of my life seeking comfort. The very idea of suffering is alarming, and if I think it can be avoided, I will rush to that exit as if fleeing a burning building.
Much of our suffering is self-inflicted. Frequently we fail to see the consequences of our choices and actions. Self-centeredness is a trap, and eventually we will hit bottom and discover what a dead-end that path is. When we do and then turn to God in repentance and reconciliation, we discover joy. It is the release from suffering we brought upon ourselves. We cease doing those things that are toxic and harmful. Simply put, we let go and let God.
There are times, of course, when we cannot avoid suffering. We all experience it in varying degrees. When we face the suffering of loved ones the heartbreak we have, the compassion for them and the desire to ease their suffering are all touchstones of spiritual growth. I know this, and yet I still wish that suffering did not exist.
C. S. Lewis in A Grief Observed told us that joy is not complete without the suffering. The explanation, as I understand it, is that our appreciation for joy is not fulfilled if we have not also experienced the anguish and pain of loss. He knew it too well as cancer racked his wife’s body.
Our desire to ease the suffering of others is holy. A compassionate spirit is a gift of God. Caring about others is the beginning of denial of self and obedience to the command to love others.
When needless suffering is inflicted, we must stand in opposition. When suffering cannot be avoided, it must be embraced. The way of the cross is real for each of us, but Jesus went there first, and from that we learn the redemptive power of suffering.
I admit that it is all still most mysterious. My willingness to embrace my suffering, or that of anyone else, is still quite small. I’m learning though to cling to that barest amount of willingness and let suffering enlarge my heart and bring me closer to our all-loving God.
If our true calling in life is to be a loving servant, and I believe it is, then we must all find a way to hold the tension between self-desire and compassion for others. We can learn to embrace the pain instead of denying it. We can find acceptance of suffering without approval. The transformation we experience by becoming “broken bread and poured out wine” will better equip us to live as disciples.
[Tom Gilbert is a writer, thinker and webservant for Livingthesolution.com, a website dedicated to finding real answers to real life challenges.]
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