In my previous entry I discussed how we can find Jesus in our suffering and how He is with the sufferer. He is in the very midst of their pain and anguish. Isn’t that what a lover does? A lover wants to be with their beloved wherever they may be, even if it is in the mud or out in freezing cold fighting to live. A lover wants to be with their beloved even in the midst of their trials. That is what St. Paul said in his first letter to the Corinthians when he wrote on love:
“Love suffers long and is kind; love…5does not behave rudely, does not seek its own…6does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; 7bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
So if God is love then these things that Paul mentions about love are really definitions of who God is and consequently examples of His interactions with His beloved. But today’s blog is not about how God is with His beloved in the midst of suffering but about finding hope in suffering, so where to begin? Well let’s begin where we left off with our last blog, with C.S. Lewis in The Problem of Pain. “We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” It is in the place of pain that God is shouting to us that something is wrong. Something is incredibly wrong with the world and the way things are happening that needs a drastic change. For example you don’t have to tell the child with a stomach ache that something is wrong, they already know. They know that something is wrong and that their sickness is probably not going away until they run to mommy. Now can mommy make the sickness go away? No, but she can diagnose it and find out that the child stayed up each candy to all hours of the night and now they are sick.
Now just as the child knew that they are sick when we experience suffering the pain we are experiencing is telling us that something is wrong, and just like the child we can respond in one of two ways hide in our pain and try to numb it and ignore it or we can tell mommy, or in our case God. Our suffering is as Lewis put it God’s “megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” It is God’s way to tell us that the pain the woman feels each night as her husband beats her is not right. The pain people experience in life is His indicator to us that something is wrong, thus meaning if God is God then that means He has a better plan. What is this better plan? Well in a single word it is resurrection.
Resurrection or rather rebirth is ultimately a new beginning. It is the end of the old and the beginning of the new. It is the beginning of a new chapter, a fresh start for humanity and yet still so much more. It is the end of suffering and triumph over all of humanity’s enemies. It is the end of sorrow and beginning of unending joy and peace, and it is this reality of the Christian Hope that is the conclusion of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, so let us dig deeper.
So where did this rebirth begin? Where will this end or rather when will it culminate? Well it began two thousand years ago when Christ conquered death and became the first fruits of new life. Christ the first fruits having thrown down the principality of death becoming the first born of the dead, the first to enter into the new birth has paved the way for humanity to follow; however, the story does not end there. But what does that entail? Is it merely a spiritual new life or is it physical as well? Is this “new life” better than the original? Well let’s begin with the spiritual side.
New Birth: Spirit
At the point of spiritual new birth, that which comes through salvation, the spirit begins the sanctification process that ultimately is the freeing from the internal bondage. What does that look like? At the point of salvation man’s spirit begins to change through the leadership of the indwelling Holy Spirit who now lives within to guide in the paths of righteousness. On top of this the Spirit begins to bring freedom to our spirits from the bondage and sufferings that have befallen us for so long because of sin. So what does this mean in less spiritual jargon? Well as the Holy Spirit begins to sanctify us in righteousness we begin to stop saying yes to sin; which in the Christian mindset is the root of suffering. At the point of salvation the sinner is now both freed from the bondage of sin and becoming free as well. As we sin less we are ultimately creating less suffering for us and for others, though this does not mean the Christian is now free from suffering, but quite the contrary as the Christian is ultimately now creating less suffering.
Along with the decreasing of desire for sin in the sinner’s new birth into Christianity, the new Christian begins to walk the path of freedom from those things that had so long entangled them during their estrangement from God. These things being and not limited to: addictions to drugs, smoking, alcohol, sexual immorality, freedom from self hatred, narcissism, ect. However contrary to the more Post-Modern American Evangelical mindset it is not some instantaneous change from a sinner to a great holy Christian, nor is it some state of immediate freedom from ones struggles. Though some may experience some supernatural freedom from past struggles or massive leap in the sanctification process it is still a process that will continue throughout the entirety of ones life.
Now the last aspect to the new birth of the spirit is the end of alienation. No longer does the sinner remain alienated from God, but through salvation and the new birth of the spirit the Christian can now enter into blessed fellowship with God through the indwelling Spirit.
Though there are more aspects to the spirit’s new birth these are three of the main ones, though one might argue for eternal life the Bible makes it clear that even the unrepentant will have eternal life but they will be living it out in the lake of fire. At the point of death of the body or of the resurrection of the dead then our spirits will be transformed into Christ’s likeness both in the body and in the spirit.
New Birth: Body
The new birth of the body is just as glorious as the spirits, though for many it is simply the end of death but it is so much more than that, so let’s delve deeper. Unlike the new birth of the spirit the body’s new birth does not begin at salvation but at the resurrection of the dead when Christ returns.
So let us begin with the obvious death is no more, no longer will man be able to die. No longer will man be able to suffer pain, sickness or any infirmity. This invulnerability to death and suffering is for those who are in Christ alone; as for those outside of Christ they will receive some form of an eternal body, but unlike those in Christ theirs can and will experience suffering.
There is much that shrouds the capabilities of the resurrected body but what we can safely assume is that whatever Jesus did with His and even what Adam and Even could do pre-fall we can do. That means when we work, yes we will still work, we won’t sweat. Work won’t be hard unlike it is now. Our minds quite possibly could be enhanced to where we are able to tap into 100% of our brains instead of only part. This idea can be seen in Adam’s ability to name every animal and manage the garden. We won’t experience shame or even self hatred concerning our bodies; this does tie in with the new birth of our spirits. Just as Jesus ate, we will eat. Unlike the Greek Gnostic mindset that says the body, work and all of physical reality is bad, the Biblical mindset says that the physical reality is Holy which is why we get a New Body.
For many they tend to liken the abilities of the resurrected body to that of modern day superheroes and though they may appear similar they are still completely different. Now concerning walking through walls, though it is possible scripture does not support this idea. Jesus never walked through walls, but rather it says “Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst.”John 20:26. So how did He get in there? Well it was most likely more like He was translated just like Philip in Acts 8:39. Jesus on another occasion is translated from one place to another on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:31. Lastly how else could He see 500 people in 40 days, unless He could translate? Finally can the resurrected body fly? Though Jesus does ascend to heaven and is supposed to come riding on the clouds, that does not completely constitute flight. It merely shows that God was and will be demonstrating is superiority over the world. Does that mean we won’t fly no? No, it simply means we cannot assume anything other than it will be both glorious and perfect.
So in summary, what will the new birth of the body look like? Perfect.
Presently we live in a fallen world where chaos, anger, death and corruption run rampant, but the New Earth will be completely the opposite. Just like the resurrected body the New Earth will in many ways return to the way things once were. Well what does that look like? Well there is peace; humanity lived in perfect harmony with all of creation. The soil was soft and not hard, the animals were not trying to kill them and there were no destructive storms in the land. Yes even the weather itself was in perfect harmony with the rest of creation. So if that was what creation looked like on the earth pre-fall we can only assume it will be at the least be the same if not better, which it will be.
Since the fall creation has groaned; for ever since humanity was thrust into exile from paradise they have waited, longing for alienation to end. Ever since the resurrection humanity has been freed from their estrangement from God and a New Exodus has begun, one that will culminate with all of creation finally reunited with God. For when Christ returns He will put to right all the wrongs as humanity’s exile comes to an end and the Father walks among His creation once more.
So what does the Bible say about the earth or rather New Earth as it says in Isaiah 65 and Revelation 21? Well first there is a King named Jesus, but that goes without saying if you have ever read the scriptures, but for the sake of the one who has not read much I divulge more. In Psalm 89:3-4 David recalls the covenant that the Lord gave to him: “I have made a covenant with My chosen; I have sworn to David My servant, 4I will establish your seed forever and build up your throne to all generations.” So from the covenant the Lord has established the throne of David forever, thus if Jesus is the promised seed then there must be a throne. This is not some celestial, ethereal throne floating off in the cosmos but one on the earth. It is tangible.
However more than a King, there is also a Kingdom for a king is not a king without a kingdom; it is as simple as that. So what is this Kingdom? In a word it is perfect. So what is a Perfect Kingdom? For starters there is only peace. No longer will fear, anxiety and depression fill the streets. No longer will violence rage from nation to nation, for peace will overflow from the throne to the ends of the earth. This is what it means for Isaiah when he said: 7There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this. Isaiah 9:7 In short there will be peace all over the earth and it is will never end for there is not end to the expansion of Christ’s Kingdom. Now does that mean that because there is no end to the increase of His Kingdom that we will take over the stars, planets and galaxies? It is unlikely that we will expand the Kingdom to the galaxies as the language is focusing on the fact that no other government could stop Christ’s Kingdom. To add on to this thought on the Kingdom there will no longer be wickedness or injustice for the One who sits upon the throne will uphold the perpetual peace through righteousness and justice for it is these two realities that are to be found as the foundation of His throne. “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; lovingkindness and truth go before You.” Psalm 89:14 No longer will there be an unjust or wicked king, no longer a flawed righteous king but a Perfect King who will always uphold righteousness and justice all throughout the Kingdom. Thus the poor will be fed, the homeless will be given a home, the orphan and widow a family, the leaders will no longer take bribes or be corrupt. Every sphere of society will be upheld by righteousness and justice. No longer will teachers pick their favorites and ignore the ones who are hard to educate. For when the Prince of Peace sits upon the throne the perfection of all things will go forth as justice and righteousness upholds all things.
Well if there is a Perfect King and Kingdom what about the rest of creation? Well for starters it is new or rather perfect. Contrary to popular belief in much of the church we will not be living in heaven on clouds as fat little cherub babies after this life, nor will we dwell before the Lord worshiping in heaven for all eternity. To go along with these false suggestions of the afterlife the current earth will not be completely destroyed, thrown away and thus replaced but it will be restored to perfection. Why? Well why not? Why would God who has done so much to save all of creation when it is all said and done just abandon His creation? What’s more what about the apocalyptic scriptures that don’t reference people but the land? So let’s look to see what Isaiah has to say concerning the earth: Isaiah 35:7 “The scorched land will become a pool and the thirsty ground springs of water.” Isaiah 44:3 “I will pour out water on the thirsty land…” Isaiah 62:4 “…your land, ‘Married’; for the Lord delights in you, and to Him your land will be married.” God clearly has a heart for the earth as it is His desire to not only to revive that which has become barren and dead but He also desires to marry the earth. Even if you want to spiritualize the reviving of the earth as a spiritual revival then why would God say He will marry or rather become one with the earth? Why would He give the Israelites in Deuteronomy laws concerning the treatment and mistreatment of the land if He did not have both a heart and destiny for the Earth itself? So what is the earth’s destiny? Perfection.
To even go one step deeper there will be peace on the earth even among nonhuman creation. Once again let us peer into the eyes of Isaiah: “And the wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little boy will lead them.” Isaiah 11:6 Finally humanity will not live in fear of creation as there is peace among all creation. To quote Woody Allen “The lion may lie down with the lamb, but the lamb won’t get much sleep.”
How does the earth become perfect or new? Well it starts back with the King. When the King comes He will establish peace, righteousness and justice in the earth that will ultimately transform all creation. At the very end of His thousand year reign, He will have thrown down Death, Hades and the accuser of the brethren Lucifer. No longer will death take place in the earth, no longer will injustice continue and no longer will the oppression continue. In Zechariah chapter 14, Zechariah prophesies that the Lord will be king over all the earth and even goes on to talk about the rain and the cattle as if these two things are still needed, thus food and the harvest will continue. But if these things be true and if even the people of the earth are beating their swords into plowshares in order to farm then there must be a destiny for the earth. So what is the fire that will consume the earth? Well if you have ever read the Psalms or the Prophets then you will have noticed that on many different occasions the writers use the word fire as a means not for destruction but for purification. So if this be true then surely when the Bible says fire will consume the earth, then perhaps this is what it means. The fire of God will purify the earth unto perfection transforming it into a new look or rather a new earth. As N.T. Wright so eloquently once said “Heaven is important, but it is not the end of the world.”
God All in All
So with a view of our hope being found in New Spirit, New Body and New Earth there is one last wondrous reality to consider; God will finally be all in all. Paul in his typical emblematic fashion paints the picture of the culmination of all things into perfection with this one small phrase: God will be all in all. O’ the bliss God and humanity will finally be one; the creator and His creation finally dwelling together in perfect unison. No longer will heaven be God’s realm and earth creation’s, but God and creation both humanity and nature will all be one. God will be glorified in complete perfection through all created order, and it is this reality of the Christian Hope that is the conclusion of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
20But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. 23But each one in his own order: Christ the first fruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. 24Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. 25For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. 26The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. 27For “He has put all things under His feet.” But when He says “all things are put under Him,” it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted. 28Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all. 1 Corinthians 15:20-28
Jesus is not just some philanthropist seeking to bail humanity out of their suffering but He is a lover seeking to draw near to His beloved in their suffering. These words ring throughout the depths of my soul; God desires to be with us in our pain and brokenness.
“You would not have called to me unless I had been calling to you,” said the Lion this is such a powerful statement Aslan tells Jill in C.S. Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia: ‘the Silver Chair’” In the midst of our own brokenness we are blinded to our own need, though we may be aware to a degree of our need we truly have no clue just how broken we are. Just as the man blinded by complete darkness cannot see the dirt and filth that covers, we cannot see just how dirty we are. It is this reason why in John 1:5, 9 it says “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it…9There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.” As the world lay in deep darkness unaware of its need suddenly a great light pierced through the veil to enlighten the souls of man.
God looking upon humanity’s inability to draw near to Him out of their own blindness took it upon Himself to solve the problem of alienation between God and man Himself. The answer was Jesus, the very Second Person of the Blessed Trinity; God in flesh. The One who spent eternity past arrayed in light took off His garbs of glory and took on the garments of dust. The one who knew equality with God laid it all aside to draw near to the broken, consequently now knowing equality with broken humanity. Until we understand the depths of what He gave up for us, we will never truly know the greatness of His love towards us, but this will be touched upon in a future blog. As stated prior, if you are a lover then you want to be with your beloved in all things, even in their pain. This is what it means to be a lover, to be with them in the rejoicing and in the weeping.
So God looking down upon us in our anguish took it upon Himself be with us. Like Aslan calling to Jill before she even knew there was an Aslan, Jesus was coming to us before we ever knew there was a Jesus. The lover was coming to His beloved before she ever knew they were ever loved.
Christ Suffers With Us
Let us begin with the most iconic moment where Jesus suffers with humanity. “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6So when He heard that he was sick, He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was.7Then after this He *said to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judea again.’” John 11:5-7 The Bible tells us that Jesus had love and affection for His friend Lazarus; thus, hearing that His friend is sick decides to stay two more days and then go see His friend. Having kept a low profile with the Jewish religious leaders seeking to kill Him, takes two more days and then comes out of hiding to go see His friend whom He knows is now dead. Does Jesus know that Lazarus is going to die prior to the time He leaves? Who knows but what we do know is that He decides to wait in order to bring glory to the Godhead.
As Jesus shows up on the scene Martha comes running up to Him to say in summary “If you were here my brother would still be alive, but I trust that You could do something” in which Jesus responds “You have no clue what I am up to but I do love you which is why I am here.” Martha leaves and sends Mary to Jesus. As Mary comes running up to Jesus she falls at His feet in tears saying in summary “I know You could have done something if You had simply been here.” Jesus looking at His friend weeping at His feet and those that came with her weeping was both deeply moved and troubled. Why troubled? Well we will save that for another time. What we do know is that Jesus experiences sorrow and begins to weep within; this is what it means in the Greek by wept. It is not a loud sobbing but rather a silent weeping that is primarily an experience of internal sorrow. So Jesus in other words is not performing some outward weeping like the professional mourners who accompanied Mary, but as one whose heart was broken in deep pain. As a side note at the time there were those who people would hire to come and mourn at a funeral, these being called mourners. This is why the silent and more internal weeping that Jesus experienced was a true experience of sorrow, thus in the moment Jesus is entering Mary’s own suffering as well as Lazarus’ suffering.
Turning to the John 8 we read the story of the woman caught in adultery being brought before Jesus for judgment. As all gathered to mock and condemn her as she wallowed in her shame before all to see; Christ knelt down beside her. As the upper echelon of religious elite sought to condemn her to death after she had experienced the fullness of shame possible, Christ did the unthinkable. The Great Rabbi adorned in fine garments got on his knees and played in the dirt. Though many have speculated what He was drawing whether He was writing their own sins or just doodling either way, whatever it was all their attention left the woman and moved to Christ. The religious elite no long looking and mocking the woman now with turned gazes stood bewildered at this Great Rabbi as His next words would leave them reeling to the point they would leave; yet, it was His drawing that moved her shame unto Him as the laughed at the “Great Rabbi” becoming the “Crazy Rabbi”.
Christ Enters into Suffering: Part I
Jesus seeing that humanity was lost and broken and completely alienated from God became a man, lived thirty-three years and suffered death. However, though the cross was a painful experience it was His being cut off or separated from the Father that was the true pain. Jesus’ alienation from the Father began in Gethsemane and continued to build until it climaxed into total abandonment at the cross.
As Jesus entered into the Garden “He *took with Him Peter and James and John, and began to be very distressed and troubled. 34And He *said to them, ‘My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death; remain here and keep watch.’ 35And He went a little beyond them, and fell to the ground and began to pray that if it were possible, the hour might pass Him by.” Mark 14:33-35 For as the hour approached for Jesus to head to the cross His soul was already deeply pained to the point of death, so much that He couldn’t bare for eight of his disciples to even see Him in His sorrowful state of weakness. Jesus though not wavering in His identity or in any way committing a sin was now facing His greatest temptation and greatest fear; fear of being separated from His Father, separation from an eternal relationship.
His heart rent with deep agony fell to the ground and began to groan in intercession. For it was that Jesus is now being tempted in a way that He never truly experience, that was far greater than what He had ever experienced, even in the wilderness. Jesus is in such agony and pain as to what is to come that He is yelling, groaning and even sweating drops of blood. Why, because He is afraid. Sure He is about to experience the greatest beating and one of the most painful deaths imaginable that is not simply enough to cause Him to enter into this state. Many men have gone to the cross and died that were of less character than He and never once suffered the agony we see Jesus entering into. So what is He afraid of? Well for one reason though not nearly as dramatic as the primary but big enough is the fact of betrayal. Jesus after many hours of pursuing His best friend Judas’ heart at the last supper, in hopes to save him, knows that he is coming to betray him, which will ultimately lead to his own damnation. (For more on this see Love’s Final Attempts) This is more than enough to break Jesus’ heart but still not enough to the point of His agony in Gethsemane even when paired to the sufferings on the cross.
Jesus in His agony yelled in deep sorrowful groaning “Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will.” Mark 14:36 Jesus is ultimately saying “Dad! I do not want to do this!!! Is there any other way? You are the most powerful and wisest person I know, PLEASE!!!! Have You found a new way? But if this is it…I will do it.” These prayers in the garden were not pretty eloquent prayers but groans of a man in complete terror, because of what is to come. Jesus is about to experience the wrath of God, Satan and Man that will ultimately lead to him being separated from God and Man.
Satan Wrath: This can be summed up in two ways. Satan is doing everything to keep Him from going to the cross, but also wants Him dead. Though the Bible does not openly acknowledge this, we can be sure that Satan is tempting Jesus in the Garden and all the way to the point off death to not go through with the cross. “When the devil had finished every temptation, he left Him until an opportune time.” Luke 4:13 With Jesus undergoing His greatest fear we can be safe to say there was no greater fear to tempt Him. Along with this when Jesus says to Peter to “Keep watching and praying that you may not come into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Mark 14:38 He was not simply telling them for themselves alone but also for Himself. His Spirit was in Full Obedience to the will of His Father, but His flesh was terrified and thus tempted. With this in mind the other aspect of Satan’s wrath is in the fact that he hates God so much that he wants to see Him suffer to the point of death. So both sides are crashing upon Christ’s frame. However the next two are even harder on Him.
Humanity’s Wrath: The ones Jesus loves and came to save are now betraying Him, mocking Him, beating Him, rejecting Him and are soon going to kill him.
God Wrath Fall Upon Him: As the sin of humanity descends upon Jesus His Father would release the full judgment upon His Son that would cancel the judgment destined for humanity, thus also leading the Father turning His back on the son and cutting off from fellowship with Him; this leaving the Son completely abandoned and ultimately an orphan. This being the greatest suffering He will ever experience, the suffering of abandonment from the One Who loved Him for eternity past.
The writer of Hebrews states that because of Jesus’ piety the Father heard His cries and does respond in two ways the first being He sends angels to strengthen His Son in the Garden and the ultimate is that He truly did save Him from death, but not the way Jesus had hoped. The Father saved Him by death through the resurrection. But in between the two the Father does not say or do anything. Why do I say this? Well for one Jesus is praying three times in the Garden and the Father does not answer but only by sending angels, thus showing the estrangement from each other has begun. The ultimately display is when Jesus for the first time ever address God not as Father but as God when He cries out “My God, My God, Why have You forsaken me?” Jesus no longer using the familial address of Father but is now taking on the cries of an orphaned heart saying ultimately “God where are You? Why have you have abandoned me and casted me out into darkness and silence?” Yet in His time of pain and abandonment He never gave up.
In His abandonment Jesus becomes cut off from an eternal relationship from His own Father; thus, bringing alienation to fullness. The Son becoming cut off went from an eternal relationship of always experiencing and feeling His Father’s love to being alienated and separated. It is for this reason why He was sweating blood in Gethsemane, because He knows what is to come and is terrified and does not want this. Thus Jesus experienced loneliness and can actually say “I know how the widow feels when they are lonely.” Think of you marrying the love of your life at 18 years old and you remain in married bliss for the next seventy years and now at 88 years old your spouse tragically leaves you because they no longer love you. Think of how traumatizing and painful that would be, then times that by ten billion and you still cannot touch the depths of the pain of the Father’s abandonment of the Son. This sorrow was experienced equally on both sides in different ways, but that is a point for a different time. It is this sorrow of abandonment and separation from His Father that stands alone and equal to all the suffering humanity has ever experienced combined.
Christ Enters Into Suffering: Part II
As the story of the Gospels go on, Jesus is betrayed by His best friend whose breast He once leaned upon in fellowship just a few hours earlier. (For more on this see Love’s Final Attempts) Jesus even at the last supper expressed the pain of what Judas’ betrayal through one of David’s Psalms as one of the greatest pains a person can experience. Side note the Gospels recognize Judas as a thief and Jesus was aware, thus Jesus suffered being robbed on multiple occasions even by His close friend. However; not only does Judas betray Him, but all of His friends abandon Him, Peter denies Him three times and Judas kills himself. This is alone is enough to break the strongest of hearts, yet Christ endures. While Christ is on trial He is beaten, mocked and spit upon constantly that leads to His crucifixion. The ones He loves and came to save would soon send Him to the cross to hang naked humiliation for all to see and mock. The betrayal of His own people was such a huge pain of suffering that one cannot fully grasp without a deeper understanding of His relationship with them throughout the Old Testament.
As already stated but while hanging on the cross Christ would soon experience the greatest suffering ever in all of history, the suffering of His abandonment from the Father. Yet even in the face of His abandonment Christ pressed on to endure one final suffering; He died. Jesus Himself declared about His own life in John 10:18 that “No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative.” In other words if Jesus had never willingly went to the cross, because He makes it clear to Pilate that He could have delivered Himself if He had wished, but if He did not willingly die He would never die. Jesus could not die unless He allowed. But He is a man right? Yes, but even in His humanity because He had never sinned He was not subject to the curse of death. This meaning Jesus would still be alive preaching and doing miracles today if He had never died. Even more because He had never died, Jesus could not get sick, or grow to be an “old man” full of wrinkles, lose His eyesight, go bald or even go grey as all of those are consequences of sin. If you were to have never sinned, then you would not be bound by death and decay and all that accompanies, thus all the more important for Jesus to willingly lay down His life. With this in perspective Jesus suffering of death is far greater than even the average.
Jesus with the Present Day Sufferer
When finding Christ with the present day sufferer few have said it better and clearer than C.S. Lewis in “The Horse and His Boy”
Shasta was a little reassured by the breath: so he told how he had never known his real father or mother and had been brought up sternly by the fisherman. And then he told the story of his escape and how they were chased by lions and forced to swim for their lives; and of all their dangers in Tashbaan and about his night among the tombs and how the beasts howled at him out of the desert. And he told about the heat and thirst of their desert journey and how they were almost at their goal when another lion chased them and wounded Aravis. And also, how very long it was since he had had anything to eat.
“I do not call you unfortunate,” said the Large Voice.
“Don’t you think it was bad luck to meet so many lions?” said Shasta.
“There was only one lion,” said the Voice.
“What on earth do you mean? I’ve just told you there were at least two the first night, and -”
“There was only one: but he was swift of foot.”
“How do you know?”
“I was the lion.” And as Shasta gaped with open mouth and said nothing, the Voice continued. “I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to the shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.”
So where was Jesus? Where was God in the Holocaust? Where was He when the child was being abused? Where was God during injustice? Where was He as present day humanity suffers?
Well He was with the prisoner in the gas chambers at Auschwitz. God was with the slaves being lynched during slavery. He was on His knees with the woman caught in adultery. He was with Mary and Martha in her sorrow at Lazarus’ grave. He was hanging on a cross with both thieves on Calvary. He was with the child hiding in their closet from their abusive father. He was weeping with the child whose parent(s) tragically died. He was with the single mother struggling to take care of her children. He was with young man filled with shame cause he was bound in sexual immorality. He was with the man who just couldn’t seem to get it right. He was with the one who could see everyone around them prospering with relative ease and they fought to keep going. He was with the one stuck in addiction. He was with the one who felt worthless. He was never distant and never will be distant from the sufferer but will always be right there with them.
In summary I will leave you with C.S. Lewis in The Problem of Pain “We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
After listening to Dr. Peter Kreeft’s lecture on Suffering I decided to write my own blog on the issue of suffering having had this on my mind for a while as well as having been inspired from his brilliant lecture. So let us begin.
Throughout the ages humanity has perpetually known a state of suffering that leaves the constant question “Why?” and “Where is God?” To find the answer to “Where is God in suffering?” first we must ask the questions: “What is suffering?” and “Why do we suffer?” before we can answer the question “Where is God?” So let’s use logic and start off with the first question.
What is suffering? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines suffering as: The state where one must endure death, pain, or distress. It is the state in which one must sustain loss or damage or be subject to disability or handicap.
Aristotle wrote that “we do not have knowledge of a thing until we have grasped its why, that is to say, its cause.” He went on to establish what is known as the “Four Causes” which are four possible answers to the question “Why?” something happens. These four causes are: Formal, Material, Efficient and Final.
- Formal: What is it? Define it. What’s its form, nature species?
- Material: What is it made of? What is the content?
- Efficient: Where did it come from? Who made it?
- Final: What is it for? What is its purpose?
With the issue of suffering thanks to Merriam-Webster we have already given a broad definition to the form of suffering, but for the sake of an example we will use the suffering of physical abuse. The first two questions are easy to answer. What is the Formal Cause of our chosen suffering? It is physical abuse. What is the Material Cause? It is a father beating is son. What is the Efficient Cause? This could be from drinking/drugs, depression, mental illness, anger or any other place of brokenness that can be found in the father that would cause him to lash out. Last but not least the hardest question: What is the Final Cause to the suffering of physical abuse? This last one is the hardest.
In our search for understanding we will look at some Philosophers who sought to make sense to suffering. The first is Buddha who once said “To live is to suffer” in which Nietzsche added “To live is to suffer; to survive is to find meaning in the suffering.” Yet it was Viktor E. Frankl in his book “Man’s Search for Meaning” Frankl adds on to Buddha and Nietzsche “If there is a purpose in life at all, there must be a purpose in suffering and in dying. But no man can tell another what this purpose is. Each must find out for himself, and must accept the responsibility that his answer prescribes.” So with that in mind, what is the meaning to life? Jesus laid this out for us in the Gospels when asked what the greatest commandment is. It is Love. It is to be loved by God, to love Him in return and consequently love yourself and then others. So if there is meaning to life (i.e. Love) what is the meaning of a child’s suffering physical abuse from his father? For if life has meaning then suffering must logically have some meaning or purpose to it.
Was there even a meaning for Jesus in what He suffered? Yes! A constant theme in the Psalms and the Proverbs is that God exalts the lowly and in Philippians 2 Paul states that in Christ’s lowliness displayed in His incarnation, suffering and death He was exalted. The in Revelation 5 we see glimpse of what He gets in His exaltation. So in that there was some meaning to Christ’s life on the earth it was simply a reward. In Isaiah 53 it states that there will be a reward to be given to the “Suffering Servant” which that being in part the offering of the nations as seen in Psalms 2. So Jesus in His life and suffering has meaning. It is glory, honor, riches, a kingdom, a bride and so much more. But the question still stands “What is our meaning to suffering?”
Buddha who founded his religion/philosophy on four noble truths the first of which says “To live is to suffer” from the suffering of birth to death and all of that lies within. Though there is some truth to this, Buddha based his whole religion on escaping suffering. Jesus on the other hand came and contrary to Buddha came to lead humanity not out of suffering but to lead us into suffering, for Him sin was the key issue to all suffering. This we know as Christians is the ultimate Efficient Cause to suffering. So if for the Christian all suffering came from the root of our sin what is the purpose?
In Hebrew 5 it says that Jesus had to learn obedience through His suffering. Along with that the Greek Poet Aeschylus said “Wisdom comes alone though suffering.” So is the purpose of suffering to gain wisdom or obedience? Paul states in Romans 8:28 “that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God…” So though that doesn’t answer the question entirely it does mean God can create a meaning for it, the meaning being good. In the case of the abused child the good can be they grow up to poor into those that come from broke homes. Which is simply Nietzsche Frankl’s point; the child survived the abuse grew up and found meaning in it by using their understanding of the issue to help others. But is there more purpose to it?
If God brings good out of suffering, then is their more? For the woman caught in adultery in John 8 it was Jesus. In her suffering she found God. For David in the midst of his suffering we see in the Psalms it was an opportunity for him to cry out to God. So in the midst of our suffering we can find some meaning in that it is an opportunity to encounter God. For the abused child it is an opportunity to cry out to God, though that does not mean the suffering will stop, for as we know as Christians that suffering will never end until sin is gone. For sin is the Efficient Cause.
As Dr. Peter Kreeeft says “However these Four Causes are not meant to be a solution to the problem of suffering but to hone in on its centrality. There are two parts to the problem of suffering: Practical and Theoretical.” The practical being simply what do we do with it?
The theoretical which is the logic of it, why must we suffer? Through a secular lens we can try and keep growing in society and in our understanding and eventually we will evolve into a more enlightened being that has become above suffering and injustice. But to quote Sigmund Freud in “Civilization and Its Discontents” puts it “Why, now that we have become gods aren’t we happy?” Now that we are so enlightened why does life stink? Why do we suffer? Was Buddha right? Are we just destined to keep suffering? Is there a purpose? Is there an end? Well practically through the secular lens we must simply live through it and endure…that is a very depressing answer. However; if you are a Christian there is a hope and His name is Jesus. Jesus is the answer to the problem of suffering, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Theoretically if you live in a corrupt system, then you can always revolt and build a utopia on earth free of all corruption and be done away with the issue of why you are suffering, but then again you are still going to suffer death so issue is still unresolved.
But if you are a Christian and believe that God is the author of a story and is writing both the beginning and the end and all that lies within then the question is “Why does He write such a dreadful story?” This seems to be part of where Job the “archetypical sufferer” who in the midst of his suffering asks God “Why me?” in which God instead of answering his questions responds with His own questions. To ultimately sum up God’s response “Who do you think you are, you can’t possibly understand, I’m the author, you’re the character but that is ok I still love you.” David seems to a have a similar response as Job in the midst of his suffering when he asks “Why me?” except David always seems to add something Job doesn’t seem to remember “Why me? Either way I still trust You and know that You are good.” Coincidentally both seem to encounter God in the midst of their suffering. Concerning suffering Dr. Kreeft states “Perhaps one of the things God wants us to do is to get angry with Him, because that makes us similar to Socrates. It makes us ask questions.” I myself have found this to be true in my own life because of the anger I experience from my suffering I have found myself turning to God to ask Him the hard questions. Much like Job and David in the Psalms I turned to the One who could see the end from the beginning.
Dr. Kreet makes the point that, if in fact we are characters in a story written by God then that means we cannot truly understand all that is going on, even suffering because if we did that means God would no longer be God and instead simply He would be us. But since the character cannot see all that the author is writing, then we cannot fully comprehend all that is going on all we can do is simply trust in the leadership of the transcendent author. If this is true then this is one answer to the problem of suffering, simply to Trust or Faith in God’s leadership.
Another answer to the problem is Hope, which is simply Faith in the future. So it is possible that we will not fully understand suffering in this age but in the age to come when God has done away with suffering. Or in other words it is like the character trying to figure out where the author is taking him in his story but ultimately can’t fully understand until it is all over and book two starts and he can look back. So consequently all he can do is trust in the leadership of the author by putting his hope that the author will right the wrongs.
Lastly the deepest answer to the issue of suffering is love or rather solidarity with sufferers and if you truly do love someone then you want to be with them wherever they are, you want to be close to them, you want intimacy. It is one thing if to show love by bailing someone out of their suffering but it is another to experience their suffering with them. It is the shortest verse of the Bible; “Jesus wept.” In which when Jesus wept over the loss of his friend with Mary the people said “See how He loved him.” Jesus experienced both the pain of Lazarus’ death and the pain that Mary was experiencing. Sure Jesus could have stopped Lazarus from dying, but He didn’t because He is the author and brought good out of it. But in Lazarus and Mary’s suffering Jesus was their relating with them.
Thus if you are a Christian the greatest answer to the problem of suffering is as stated earlier is Jesus. Who took off His garments of light and clothed Himself in dust to walk among the broken to identify with their suffering, thus showing the greatness of His love. In being with us in our suffering we experience a greater level of intimacy is birthed, this is for everyone because everyone suffers.
Dr. Kreeft paints the picture: If your car breaks down in a horrible snow storm and all you can do is contact your brother. When he shows up he doesn’t know how to fix your car, but all he knows to do is sit with you in the midst of your trial until the morning when you can get a tow truck to come to your rescue. So looking back is guy more thankful for the brother or the tow truck guy? Is he more thankful for the one was with him in his suffering or rescued him? Well it would be the one who was with him. I can attest to this in my experience more times than naught, in my times of suffering all I really wanted was someone to just come sit with me as I experienced the inevitable pain. Now praise be to God that Jesus is both the brother in the story who sits with us in our suffering and the transcendent author who at the end of the story will right every wrong on our behalf. Jesus was with the child being abused, He was the One who rescued the child from being abused and the One who healed and matured the abused child into a grown man capable of ministering to the broken. Jesus is the answer to suffering. Thus knowing I can meet Jesus in my suffering well to quote Nietzsche: “He who has a ‘why’ to live can bear with almost any ‘how’.” Those that have a ‘why’ or a meaning to be found in suffering can endure it because Jesus is there.
 “Four Causes”. Falcon, Andrea. Aristotle on Causality. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy 2008