When God suffers…

October 30, 2009

[Originally posted Sunday, November 12, 2006 at 1:25am]

Our God is good. Our God is love. Our God is just. Our God is powerful… Our God suffers? — One of these doesn’t seem to fit our paridigm of God, even if we would admit all are true, one just doesn’t sound right. Yet He was called a “Man of Sorrows” as the old hymn goes — God died for us, but it seems hard to say that He suffered. Yet I would posit that He suffered for us, and He continues to suffer even now. What a concept. The God Who suffers!

“Man of Sorrows what a name,
For the Son of God who came.”

Recently, as I was reading in Isaiah, this chorus came to mind as I read verse 3 of chapter 53, but it was verse 4 that really caught my eye. It says,

“He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows and aquainted with grief…
Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
And our sorrows He carried…”

I have known and taken comfort for years that Christ died for my sins, but it was not until recently, when I read this verse that I really realized that He has also borne my sorrows and grief. He did not just take my sinfulness, He bore my pain. The God of the universe is not foreign to what I feel; He is present in my very suffering.

One of the most common questions today may very well be, “Where is God when it hurts?” I have asked it myself many times — and it is a very legitimate question. And the difficulty is that it is not merely an intellectual question; it is a cry of the heart more than a cry of the mind. Yet there is an answer that only Christianity can give to this question.

Dennis Ngien relays a breathtaking story about a hanging in a Nazi concentration camp.

“This is made plain in Wiesel’s story about the hanging of two Jewish men and a youth in a Nazi concentration camp. All the prisoners, Wiesel included, were paraded before the gallows to witness this horrifying spectacle. “The men died quickly, but the death throes of the youth lasted for half an hour. ‘Where is God? Where is he?’ someone asked behind me. As the youth still hung in torment in the noose after a long time, I heard the man call again, ‘Where is God?’ And I heard a voice in myself answer: ‘Where is he? He is here. He is hanging there on the gallows.’ ” Any other answer would be blasphemy, says Jurgen Moltmann.”

Where is God when it hurts, when I am suffering? He is right there on the gallows. He is right there on the cross. He is right there suffering with me. Peter Kreeft says that “True love must suffer…Love seeks above all intimacy, presence, togetherness. Not happiness…” Suffering is a price worth paying for love, for togetherness. “There is no such thing as free love; love is the most costly expression in the world. But the wonderful thing is that it has already been paid for.” (Ravi Zacharias) The cross was costly to show love. The cross is the most marvelous and mysterious thing to me. How can such an evil instrument be so beautiful?

I find the absolute beauty of the Christian answer to suffering and evil (the cross) is not that God will cause good to prevail over evil, but that God will cause good to prevail, even through evil. Ravi Zacharias aptly states that, “God conquers not in spite of the dark mystery of evil, but through it.” And Peter Kreeft adds, “This part of the infinite goodness of God, that He should allow evil to exist and out of it produce good.” He “led captivity captive.” (Ephesians 4:8) What a God that uses evil for good! How ironic it is that when Christ was furthest from God, forsaken at the cross, at that very moment He was completely in the will of God.

God is about the process of redeeming the worst of things for His own purposes. He used the most vehement opposer of early Christianity to pen the majority of the New Testament. And He has turned the most brutal method of death into the greatest symbol of all time. The cross is both the epitome of evil in this world and yet even more so the greatest good. That is why the cross is the centerpiece of Christianity.

What a God who redeems through evil! What a God who uses even the tools of His enemy for His own purposes! His arm is not too short to redeem anything. God is not foreign to our suffering. God is not foreign to our pain and sorrow. He has borne it all, and what is more — He has used it for good! The God Who suffers is well pleased to redeem even suffering for His own purpose….. What a God we serve!!!

It is because of this that Philip Bliss can sing:

“Man of Sorrows! what a name
For the Son of God, Who came
Ruined sinners to reclaim.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!”

Hallelujah! Indeed, what a Savior!

“How merciful of God to force us against our will into a world full of suffering!”
— Peter Kreeft

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