Friday, September 30, 2011

Our Suffering Savior

He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
3He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

4Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.
5But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.

Isaiah 53:2-5

9But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

10In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. 11Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.

17For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

Hebrews 2:9-11, 17-18

Suffering is the most universal of human experiences. We cannot escape it no matter who we are or where we’re from. It will always catch up with us one way or another. Suffering is simply an unavoidable aspect of life. Some endure more suffering in a lifetime; others endure less. Some live in wealth; others live in poverty. Some live in health; others live constantly in the grip of illness. Some are despised and persecuted; others live in the good graces of seemingly everyone. But regardless of whether we live most of our lives in an overwhelming flood of trials and tribulations or in their relative absence, we all know pain. We have all known what it is to have a broken heart at one point or another; we have all known what it is to be hurt by friends, family, lovers, coworkers, and strangers; we have all known what it is like to be sick and to endure the illnesses of loved ones; we have all known privation at one time or another; we have all known the ravages of nature; we have all known the tragedies of death that befall our loved ones, and ultimately, we will all experience death for ourselves.

The question of why we suffer has been the most thoroughly considered of all questions theologians have wrestled with throughout the centuries. If God is all powerful, if God is good, why does he allow us to suffer as horribly as we do? In my humble opinion, Christianity does not provide a better answer for why we suffer than any of the world's other great religions. What it does provide, however, in comparison with them is the truth that our God is not removed from or indifferent to the sufferings of his creatures. Christianity asserts a God who exists in solidarity with his creatures in the face of their sufferings. The lessons of the cross are great and could be pondered for all of eternity, but, one of the greatest lessons we can learn from the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ is that we are not alone in our sufferings.

I have come to embrace a particular teaching on the nature of Christ's sufferings that powerfully conveys the reality of our Savior's solidarity with us in our sufferings. We rightly emphasize that Jesus’ Passion accomplished the satisfaction of Divine Justice's wrath against sin, but we cannot come away from the cross without also realizing that in those horrible hours hanging on the tree, Jesus willingly took up the experience of all the horrors of sin, suffering, and death that each and every human being has ever and will ever know. Not only did our Savior take the penalty for our sin upon himself but he also took on all the sufferings resulting from the presence of sin and evil in the world as his own personal experience. Whenever we endure suffering or see its presence, we have known the very experience of Jesus Christ.

We cannot, however, simply consider suffering an experience that Christ endured once in the distant past on Calvary. We can be sure that whenever we hurt, Christ is present to us right now at this very moment suffering right along with us. For the Christian, then, we do not suffer in vain, for Christ has sanctified suffering and redeemed it forever. Therefore, just as Christ suffered and was glorified as a result, if we suffer for him and alongside of him, we will surely share in his glory.

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