Monday, July 26, 2010

The suffering of God

Compared to the suffering of the martyrs, the physical suffering of Jesus on the cross was not exceptional. The Romans crucified thousands and for many the death was much slower than was that of Jesus. The Maccabean martyrs who suffered under Antiochus Epiphanes had their limbs removed without anesthetic while they were alive. Cranmer, Latimer and Ridley were burnt alive by Mary Tudor. All these and many others faced death bravely and defiantly.

What we know of Jesus' attitude to his impending death was that he prayed to his father asking if it could be avoided. "If it be your will take this cup from me". On the cross he cries out that God has forsaken him. If Jesus was just a martyr there are far more impressive ones.

What went on on the cross was far more significant than that. We learn at the beginning of John's gospel of the tri-personality of God. The Son-of-God was not a created being, but actually took part in creation and had lived through eternity in the bosom of the Father in community with the Holy Spirit. The concept of the Trinity is beyond our comprehension - One God in three persons - how can we understand it? I used poetry to describe it:

In the beginning was the Word

But Jesus was not Jesus then, no more
The Virgin Mary’s son; He was the Word,
With God, the three in one, in rapt rapport
Held fast by love. The Holy Three conferred
And made the sky, the earth, the sea; His hand
In each creative act. The Spirit soared
Above the seas before that great command,
“Let there be light!” He was the Light; adored
By angels. Darkness could not comprehend.
Then there was life, of countless, teeming kind.
In Him was life and His that life to lend;
The light of men; for Man he had designed
To hold His image and when thus constrained
To free from bondage those whom sin had stained.

But that doesn't half do it justice.

If we are spurned by even an acquaintance it is painful. If we are rejected by a spouse, it hurts more than we can bear; it may despoil our life thereafter. We cannot begin to imagine the Godhead wrenched apart, but that is what happened on the cross. Some people talk about Hell being the absence of God. When we talk about Jesus going through Hell for us, that is what we mean. Richard Dawkins snide remarks about God as a child molester simply reveals his lack of understanding of the nature of the Trinitarian God. While we see Jesus suffering - the crucifixion and scourging simply being a crude picture of the Spiritual pain being endured - we must remember that there is but one God and the pain of one of the persons of the Trinity is the pain of them all.

Mel Gibson's film, The Passion of the Christ has been criticized because of the gory nature of the scourging and the brutality of the crucifixion. It is certainly not a film that I would take my grandchildren to see. But for adults it gives a flavor of the horror involved. The enormity of the Creator put to death by his creatures and the utter wrongness of the deriliction of the Son of God while, as Graham Kendrick put it, "Evil crouches near" only hints at the terrible transaction taking place.

The wife of the Archbishop of Armargh put it like this:

We may not know, we cannot tell
What pains he had to bear.
We only know it was for us
He hung and suffered there.

In the death of Jesus, God suffers in love. The Bible says that Jesus came on a rescue mission for his creation. He had to pay for our sins so that some day he can put an end to evil and suffering without ending us.

If we ask the question, "Why does God allow evil and suffering to continue?" we still don't know the answer, but we can be certain what the answer is not. It can't be because he doesn't love us.

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