Yesterday I posted a video and some accompanying thoughts on suffering. I followed up this morning with a quote from Richard Rohr on how God shares in our suffering.
My friend Mark left the following comment in response to this morning’s post:
I suspect the acceptance of this by most people is dependant on revelation, as knowledge here is not enough. Jesus was crucified, I get that. But he wasn’t raped, his daughter wasn’t killed in a car accident, he wasn’t trafficked, he wasn’t separated from his mother and gassed in a black chamber packed with his mates, he wasn’t force fed drugs as a baby, he didn’t lose his house in a tsunami, he wasn’t made redundant, he didn’t grow old and get abused for years in a bad nursing home, he didn’t grow old… Does he really share in our suffering?
I’m thankful for Mark’s comment, for it gives voice to a very real question with which we all must grapple. I started to compose a reply, but then it began to get longer, so I thought I may as well make it into a follow-up post. I’d like to emphasise that this post is not intended as some kind of theological refutation of Mark’s comment, mainly because there’s no argument to be refuted. Mark has raised a question that is both valid and necessary, and I simply share some thoughts in response.
First off, I hear where Mark is coming from. And I understand how saying “Jesus knows how you feel” to a suffering parent who’s lost a child in a car accident might be scant comfort. In fact, over the years I’ve probably heard well-meaning Christians say such things many times. Unfortunately, what is intended as comfort may often be received as something like this: “Stop wallowing in grief – Jesus suffered and got over it, so you’d better pull yourself together.”
Allow me to offer three further thoughts:
1. Suffering is an experience common to all of humanity. It takes many forms and shapes, and is far worse for some than for others. But make no mistake, it comes to us all. And God, in Jesus, has shared in that common experience. He knows what it is to be weak, to be “overwhelmed with grief”. He is therefore able not just to sympathise but to empathise with us when we suffer. He doesn’t say to us “I’ve suffered just as much as you, so get over it”. I think he recognises the uniqueness of each person’s experience of suffering, just as his own suffering was unique. And he doesn’t try to rush us through suffering – he sits, stands, walks and cries with us through it.
2. Losing a child is probably one of the most emotionally painful experiences anyone can imagine going through. As Mark says, it’s not something Jesus had to go through. Consider this, though: Jesus is the Eternal Word, the one who enjoyed perfect, unbroken fellowship with the Father from all eternity, and the one through whom all things were made. Imagine the humiliation and pain of the all-powerful, eternal God not only taking on the form of a servant, but suffering rejection, mockery, torture and death at the hands of his own creatures, who unknowingly depended on him for their very life. I’d say that’s quite a come-down. In fact, it makes my mind boggle to even try to imagine it.
3. We know Jesus still shares in our suffering, because we are his body. When one part of the body hurts, the whole body hurts, and the head hurts. So I believe there is a very real sense in which Jesus feels the pain of the mother who grieves the death of her child, or the deep desolation of the girl who has been dragged away from her family and sold into the sex trade in a faraway land. He feels our pain, literally.
I will not try to explain away pain, suffering and sorrow, for it is real and present to all of us, at different times, in different ways and to different degrees. To experience pain is part of what it is to be alive on this side of the eschaton. But nor will I relish it or wallow in it, for it is not part of God’s ultimate design for His good creation. When I suffer, in whatever way, I will take comfort in knowing that Jesus is with me in my suffering and feels my pain. And I will hold fiercely to the hope of a glorious future promised by God:
Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”
Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.”