(I just posted this blog for the Society for Christian Psychology website)
Imagine you’re about to meet someone for coffee. You mentioned some of the struggles you are facing in your small group, unsure if anyone would understand. This usually quiet person approaches you afterwards and want to get together for coffee. You tentatively set something up. Now, here you are, about to meet with them, unsure of what the meeting will look like. Will they simply dump advice on you? Will they give you steps to take to fix your problems? Will they judge you?
Now, how would you feel if at the last minute you found out that Jesus himself was meeting you for coffee instead of this person? What is your first reaction, your gut response? Would Jesus be a friend and ally in your suffering, or just another person who has “got it together” who will make you feel even more like a failure? Being perfect, would he even understand? Would he berate you for not trying hard enough, not believing enough, not doing enough for his kingdom?
Is Jesus an ally to us in our suffering? If so, how so?
What is the relationship of Jesus to our suffering? We must turn to the cross to find an answer, for nowhere else in history do we see the sovereignty of God and the suffering of mankind in such clarity. In the cross of Jesus we see the sovereign God over all sin and evil, but we also see an incarnational God who comes down to experience the full brunt of that evil/chaos. God the Father predetermined the cross to happen, and God the Son submitted himself to its’ cruelty and misery.
“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” (Acts 2:22-23 ESV)
Recently tornadoes tore through the small community of Henryville, Indiana just about an hour north of where I live in Louisville, Kentucky. I can only imagine what suffering these people experienced. Where was God in their suffering? With hushed humility, we must assert from the Scriptures that God allows such things, but that is not the entire story. He also willingly enters into the very suffering he allows! This is what separates him from every other so called “god.”
In the case of the recent tornadoes, it would be like saying that God ordained the tornadoes and then came down to Henryville and let his house and family (and maybe his own life!) be swept away! He bore our tornadoes on our behalf. Only with this contrast does "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me??" make any sense. It is this often missed aspect of Jesus’ life and ministry that gives ample room for sufferers like Job and you and me to bring our pain to a sovereignly scarred God. Jesus allowed the tornadoes, and he was and is fully identified with those who have lost so much from the tornadoes, all for the purpose of clearing every possible obstacle in our way home.
I also remember when "Jesus wept" at the sovereignly ordained death of Lazarus (John 11). He allows/ordains the evil, then enters into the full experience of it on behalf of his people. What this means is that whether we are looking at the events through the lens of detached abstractions or into the tear stained face of a sole survivor of a deadly tornado that claimed his/her entire family and all possessions, Jesus is there. He is in the pain, at the very center of it; he is also in control of the events and all abstractions. Maybe that's his purpose all along - to create a world where his willingness to suffer for us and with us is most clearly on display, because nothing demonstrates his glory and his love like that.