Editor's Note: This week, Ryan continues to explore the reality of suffering from a prepositional understanding. Each post in this series relates God to suffering using a different preposition. This is the third part. You can catch the other parts in this series below. All parts of this series were originally posted as a single article in its entirety, written by Ryan Lister, Ph.D., in the Fall 2015 edition of Western Magazine and is posted per their permission. All rights belong to Western Seminary. Thanks, Western!
God in the Midst of Suffering
Undergirding our trust is the fact that God is no stranger to suffering. Rather, God the Son knows suffering and the powers of evil and temptation far better than we do. Christ faced all of these but never capitulated to them. Where we give in, Christ held out. He overcame evil, sin, and temptation by fighting them for the duration of his life and winning through his suffering, death, and resurrection.
Christ’s acquaintance with grief is at the very heart of the gospel. God the Son enters the world in all of its turmoil and catastrophe. He feels heat, cold, thirst, and hunger. He walks into the wilderness to come face to face with evil itself. He teaches, heals, and ministers to an arrogant people marked by fists clutching stones rather than open palms reaching out for their Messiah. And all along, the Gospels wind slow and steady up the hill of despair where the divine Son will hang from a tree, covered in his own blood, suffering for the sins of sinners.
Suffering then is not something down there in a world far away from its Creator. It is not simply the sinners’ punishment for their gaudy disrespect of the King of Kings. No, that King of Kings enters this world as the Suffering Servant, “a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief,” “a lamb led to the slaughter” (Isa 53:3,7). In a peculiar, world-turned-upside-down way—one we’ve frankly grown too accustom to—the suffering of God is the only way we are saved from the eternal suffering we deserve. Christ was “pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5 ESV). These are some of the most precious and tragic words we will come up against because they tell us that the holy God suffers and he suffers on our behalf.
So when pain and sorrow come into our life, we do well to remember this: God is in the midst of suffering. It’s only “when I survey the wondrous cross,” that I see that Christ’s “sorrow and love flow mingled down.” Christ enters our pain-filled world, “not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45; Matt 20:28). Suffering, from this Christ-centered perspective, is part and parcel of the gospel and, therefore, part and parcel of our hope.
Ryan Lister is a husband, father, blogger, author, and professor of theology at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon. He is the author of The Presence of God: Its Place in the Storyline of Scripture and the Story of Our Lives. Follow him on Twitter!
image credit belongs to Bastien Grivet: http://fav.me/d7mrqvp