What if God actually helped us? What if, in our moment of pain, we could pray and our pain would go away? What if, when we suffered, we could ask God for help and our suffering would actually cease? That’d be nice. It would be nice if knowing Christ meant saying goodbye to pain. But since it doesn’t, I’m glad that Christ suffered.
As Jesus was nailed to a cross, God didn’t help him either. He abandoned him. And for some reason, that’s “Good News.” Jurgen Moltmann attempts to explain why:
“suffering is overcome by suffering, and wounds are healed by wounds. For the suffering in suffering is the lack of love, and the wounds in wounds are the abandonment, and the powerlessness in pain is unbelief. And therefore the suffering of abandonment is overcome by the suffering of love, which is not afraid of what is sick and ugly, but accepts it and takes it to itself in order to heal it. Through his own abandonment by God, the crucified Christ brings God to those who are abandoned by God. Through his suffering he brings salvation to those who suffer. Through his death he brings eternal life to those who are dying. And therefore the tempted, rejected, suffering and dying Christ came to be the centre of the religion of the oppressed and the piety of the lost.”
Because Jesus’ bore the full weight of suffering that is the human condition, we can reinterpret our encounters with pain. Rejection is a reality for the most godly among us. Temptation is to be expected. Pain cannot be avoided. Christianity does not promise us freedom from the life we loathe.
But in all of these painful experiences, we find hope of God with us. If God was revealing himself to us in the life of Jesus as he experienced suffering, then we have hope that God is right in the midst of these very same experiences with us. For you and I, we too can become god-like not in our triumphalistic avoidance of suffering, but in our sympathy with the pitiful life of Christ.
If Christ’s life had been one devoid of suffering, then he would be of little help to me. If he had gone from victory to victory, then I would only be left feeling like I was doing something wrong. When I feel rejected by others, when I suffer under the weight of temptation, or I feel the pain of physical limitations, I would have felt distant from God and rejected by him in my suffering. If Christ had not suffered, pain would put me outside the presence of God.
Thank goodness that’s not the story of Jesus. Thank goodness the story of Christ is one of rejection and suffering. Thank goodness that God is near to the broken-hearted of the world.
God lets himself be pushed out of the world on to the cross. He is weak and powerless in the world, and that is precisely the way, the only way, in which he is with us and helps us. Matt. 8:17 makes it quite clear that Christ helps us, not by virtue of his omnipotence, but by virtue of his weakness and suffering .. Only the suffering God can help … That is a reversal of what the religious man expects from God. Man is summoned to share in God’s sufferings at the hands of a godless world. ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer
“Only a suffering God can help.” Considering the condition we find ourselves in, only a suffering God can help. In the crucifixion of God in Christ, I find God in the pain of my own crucifixion experiences. Thank God, Jesus suffered. It is only by his suffering that I can find hope in the midst of my own. I am accepted and loved by God despite feeling God-forsaken.