God in our Sufferings

Martin Luther once suggested that the deepest revelation of the character of God is in the weakness, suffering and death on the cross.

This is the exact opposite of where humanity expected to find God. Even today some Christians expect to find God in the success of economics or the victory over such enemies as the leaders of North Korea.  Such was the expectation of the people of God in the first century. But it was not to be, at least not with Messiah Jesus.

Two verses stand out to me. One is where Paul tells the early church that most importantly he wants them to know “Christ crucified” 1Corinthians 2:2. And I am thinking of the other place where Paul, in the midst of his own suffering, hears from God, “My grace is sufficient for you. My strength is made perfect in your weakness” 2Corinthians 12:9.

So it got me to thinking. We are looking in all the wrong places for answers to our own suffering, for making sense of our sufferings and even our weaknesses. Christ on the cross is in the sufferings of the world. Look how the prophet writes it, “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows,” Isaiah 53:4. Stop there. Christ on the cross is literally carrying within himself the sorrows of the world and not only that but also our sins (in the next verse). That whole chapter is filled with the sufferings of the Christ and it’s in those places of weakness that Christ is in most intimate contact with us and we with him.

The prophet even writes at one point that what was seen was a Messiah being despised and rejected, not a victorious King. Even in the book of Revelation when Christ is referred to as the Lion of Judah, John turns and sees not the King of Beasts but rather “a lamb that appeared as though slain” (Revelation 5). This is the Christ who identifies with this suffering world.

And I believe that the Christ who suffered is the Father, Son, and Spirit all uniting with the world in its suffering, even now during these devastating hurricanes and their aftermath. It’s in the pain of the world that our Lord bears with us. We cannot speak of the ‘glory of the Lord’ without the ‘Christ crucified’. Love, the feeling as well as the knowledge, is most manifest in weakness. It’s what unites Christ with us and we with him. Certainly there is love in joy and happiness, and lots of money (just kidding). But look what happened to Christ on the cross as he died. He surrendered his soul, his spirit to his Father. “Father into thy hands I commit my spirit” Luke 23:46. And the Revolution and Restoration of the world began. God working in the rubble of the tragedy of that day in the most loving way our God chooses to work.

The other day I was in what might be called ‘existential despair’. In other words, I was feeling crappy about life, things that were happening or not happening. My wife could tell, probably by the way I walked past her with my head hung down and muttering to myself. Well, the next morning upon awakening I prayed fervently just to surrender to God with the sense that my life was in God’s hands. I got up with a sense of connectedness to God and later got a big hug from my wife and life seemed different, better. C.S. Lewis writes that while God whispers to us in our pleasures, God shouts to us in our pain. I guess that means that we are more open to God’s voice in our sufferings although I think it was Elijah who most clearly heard God through a ‘whisper’. (Elijah was in a dark place in those days.)

It was the quietness on Golgotha that captured the attention of the world, when a ‘slain’ lamb changed our relationship with God. God was in ‘that Christ’ reconciling the world to God’s own being. I am pretty sure that God is reconciling the WHOLE WORLD but blessed are those who know it.

I am not a fan of weakness and sorrow nor is God. Perhaps that’s why Christ takes it into himself, not just once but until there is a new heaven and hearth. He is telling us of his love for us. He could not escape the tragic death of the cross because we cannot escape the sorrows of our own lives.

Pascal once wrote that Jesus would be in agony until the end of the world. That is so that every one of us can know that Jesus won’t rest as long as he is bearing in his own soul, the soul of God, our particular sorrows, sin and sufferings. We are ‘in Christ’ in the most organic and intimate sense.

 

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