Monday, February 9, 2015

My Take On Suffering

"Compassion" means "to suffer with."

An important question going around the last week or so has been "Why does God, if He is good, allow us to live in a world of suffering?" This is an important question and it should never just be brushed off with timeless cliches or out-of-context and unexplained Scripture passages. This question cuts to the depths of the human condition and exposes a wound as old as man, first present in Eve and passed on through every generation since: the brokenness of the heart which quietly cries, "Does God care about me?"

There are perhaps no words to truly respond to this question with a due amount of justice. Who can look at the immense level of desperation present in the world today -- anguish, misery, sickness, hunger, abuse, and death -- and come up with something to say about God's love that comes from a sincere place?  The question of suffering has puzzled and distressed theologians for centuries. Not the question of where it comes from, no; Christians have firm belief that suffering is the result of sin entering the world, and death the wages we're paid by it. It is important to note here a necessary distinction: God does not cause suffering, sin does. But why, again, does He allow it?

It is an astonishing assertion of the Christian religion that God wants to marry us. Throughout the pages of Scripture He describes His love for us as many things, but more often than any other analogy He describes humanity as His bride. One of the most amazing things we know of God's love for us is that He desires with His whole being, His whole heart, to pour Himself into us and become, so to speak, "one flesh" with us, to make us share in His Being in every way: all of His joy, all of His majesty, all of His peace and hope and love He wants to make our own. But it is not as though He only desires that we become like Him. Indeed, He desires as well to become like us in every way. A God whose love is so extravagant, so helpless, so devoted, so obsessive can not look at our suffering and be content enough to simply alleviate it.

He wants to be one with us. He wants to be part of us. He wants to be one of us. He wants to marry us.

And I wonder if the Crown of Thorns is His wedding ring.

I've often heard the Cross of Christ described as the "marriage bed of the Lamb," the place where He laid down His life and poured Himself out to the point of death in order to create new life in us. It is a strange concept to consider: that God would marry us by our suffering. But in fact, this is truly what we believe. We believe that when God died on the cross He didn't only experience His own suffering and death but the whole sum of our suffering and our death along with us. Compassion. To suffer with. This is precisely what makes the cross redemptive -- it plunges God into our death, so that we can be brought out by Him into His life. It is the consummation of the purpose of the Incarnation, the glorious exchange by which God in Christ gives Himself to man and man in Christ gives Himself to God. Suffering and death are put to shame by this magnificent display; they won't get away by simply being done away with and forgotten, no. They will become the very means by which God saves His people. Death becomes its own demise.

It is this which gives Paul confidence in his profession: "I boast all the more gladly in my weakness so that the power of Christ may dwell in me." (2 Corinthians 12:9) Suffering, because of God's great love, no longer has the final say and, while it cripples us, mangles us, starves us, and kills us, it is forever the cause of its own embarrassment. Suffering no longer distinguishes us from God; it is yet one more thing we have in common with Him, and because of it, because of Him, we will one day crush it under the weight of our glory.

"Where, oh death, is your victory? Where, oh death, is your sting?" 1 Corinthians 15:55

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