One of the criticisms aimed at God from outside (and sometimes from within) the Church is that in times of pain, God seems distant and aloof. They ask in their anger or despair, “How would God understand what I’m going through?”. There are definitely seasons in life when the rug is pulled from under our feet and everything in the natural part of our being cannot see past our fear, our anger, even our grief.
Yet, it’s hard to imagine a better way of helping us understand God’s amazing love for us than to realize that he has actually identified with his Creation by pouring himself into it in the person of Jesus! He could have been the divine watchmaker who wound up the universe and left us here to our own devices (as Deists believe). But the historical accounts of the Gospels tell us that Jesus was (and is) God in human flesh.
The book of Hebrews assures us of just how much Jesus identified with our circumstance. The author wrote of how God in Christ experienced the brokenness of our created order, writing, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin,”(Heb. 4:15, NIV). But we know that even beyond temptation, Jesus experienced the physical and mental pain of suffering, even the grief over loss of a friend (Lazarus) – and when he found out about it, Scripture tells us that “Jesus wept,” (John 11:35, NIV).
But not only did Jesus experience these things, he KNEW they were going to happen to him. It was God’s plan from eternity to allow Jesus to identify with humanity in this way. Roughly 700 years before Christ’s birth, the book of Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would be “a man of suffering, and familiar with pain,” (Is. 53:3, NIV). Listen to these words as they so clearly paint a picture of Jesus’ sacrifice for us.
4 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed,” (Is. 53:4-5, NIV).
The fact that God has expressed his love by even allowing his own son to be punished on our behalf should cause love and gratefulness to rise within us, banishing the fear and unrest in our very souls.
So, as we contemplate the suffering of our Saviour this Good Friday, let his Spirit draw us even closer to God, knowing we can come to him in our joy or in our brokenness. Let us heed Peter’s words:
“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you,” (1 Pet. 5:7, NIV).