St John’s Extra: God’s experience of Suffering

St John’s Extra: God’s experience of Suffering

The heart of the Christian faith is the good news about Jesus: his life, death and resurrection. It is this which shapes the Christian understanding of suffering too. Perhaps the key thing that Christians can say about suffering is that God is not remote or removed from human suffering.

Christians believe that God himself took on human flesh in the person of Jesus. He lived as one of us, he experienced all the highs and lows of human existence, and he experienced the depth of human suffering on the cross. There God himself in human flesh was tortured, mocked, shamed & nailed to a cross.

On the cross, both God the Father and God the Son underwent terrible suffering. As Jesus took the sin of the world upon his shoulders he cried out: ‘My God, my God why have you forsaken me!’ as the Father turns his back on the Son and he dies. There is pain experienced here in the very heart of God. The Father and the Son who have always enjoyed a perfect relationship of love are separated in that moment as the Son bears human sin.

In this event, God experiences suffering for us. He shares our pain. And he does it in order to offer forgiveness. All the wrong choices, which cause suffering to others are dealt with. In order to deal with the cause of suffering, human sin, God himself suffers in our place.

The Christian God is not a god who is remote or removed from suffering. He has seen it, felt it, experienced it, and lived it himself. He knows what it’s like. This doesn’t necessarily answer all of our questions about suffering but it reassures us that God understands because he himself has experienced suffering.

This is a profound truth, especially in the midst of our own suffering. John Stott reflects on this reality in his book ‘Why I Am a Christian’:

In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? … The crucified one is the God for me! He laid aside immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us, dying in our place in order that we might be forgiven. Our sufferings become more manageable in the light of his. There is still a question mark against human suffering, but over it we boldly stamp another mark, the cross, which symbolizes divine suffering.

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