The days have been a little blurred together, but I hear talk it is Easter weekend – today even being Good Friday.
If so, what better time to wrestle with suffering and God.
As C.S. Lewis calls it, “The Problem of Pain.”
Isn’t faith in “God” just a religious means of coping with your sad and frightening reality, Ed?
There are no atheists in foxholes, huh?
My problem, though, is bigger than one that could be solved by inventing a “god” to comfort me in my affliction.
In a very real sense, my faith creates the problem.
Who was it that said, “God would have a lot more friends if He treated the ones He already has better”?
Yes, I am a follower of Jesus Christ, but this doesn’t mean we always get along.
May I be frank? This God I love pisses me off – a lot.
But God promises not to give us more than we can handle, right, Ed?
You didn’t just say that to me, did you?
Actually, I believe God designs life to intentionally and systematically overwhelm us.
This is primarily what pisses me off.
He won’t cooperate with me to make my life better.
He refuses to be useful to me.
Who needs a God like this?
So where does this leave you, Ed?
Up a creek, as the saying goes.
Here are two options I have rejected:
a) Cynicism – life is bad; even if there is a God, He has no regard for you.
Enjoy the meaninglessness.
b) Moralism – God can be manipulated by your goodness; work harder and perhaps He will bless you.
Enjoy the religion.
Got anything left?
There is one thing.
I wouldn’t even mention it if I cared at all about what you thought of me. Being half dead has cured me of that, though.
Okay, here it is: I believe in a God I cannot control and is therefore not useful to me.
I’m crazy like that.
In more detail:
Without my ability to control Him, understand Him, or get anything from Him – I believe there is a God who is completely worthy of my love, service, and worship – without me receiving anything in return.
No answers. No restoration to health. No blessings. No relief. Nada.
I get nothing – except perhaps suffering.
Yes, I love this God.
You’re right. You’re crazy, Ed.
Because the One from whom I frequently demand answers is, in fact, suffering Himself today, isn’t He?
The night before He was crucified, He fell to the ground and prayed: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
He was overwhelmed with all that was about to happen to Him, yet He saw something greater; something beyond His suffering.
He spoke of a relationship with His Father that was worth whatever suffering He was called to endure.
“Not my will, but Yours be done.”
This unseen relationship was put on display the next day for all the world to determine its value.
His suffering finished with Jesus calling out with a loud voice, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.”
The relationship held.
You are so dramatic, Ed.
I get that a lot. Bear with me.
What if Christ on the cross was showing us that the universe was ruled by a King who deserved our love and allegiance no matter what happens to us in this world?
He had only a cross of suffering to show for His faith in God.
Yet He remained in union with God and faithful to God while the worst of the worst was poured out upon Him.
Only Jesus served God for truly nothing.
And He thought it worth it.
Jesus had an unanswered question Himself, if I remember.
“My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”
This echoes our great fear, doesn’t it?
That our suffering means we have been forsaken of God.
That evil will have the final word regarding our lives.
Our separation from God haunts us.
It feels eternal.
Our unbelief, our anger, our rebellion, our refusal to worship God unless He be useful to us – all of everything that separates us from our Creator – has sealed our fate.
Surely our choices will leave us alone in the universe – afflicted and forsaken.
Unless . . .
The sufferings of Christ not only pointed to something, they also accomplished something.
What if He was suffering on our behalf?
What if the separation from God that our unbelief caused was being placed upon Him so that it would never have to be placed upon us?
I often say in my pain, “God, I don’t deserve this.”
What if Christ is the only one who could truly say these words?
What if He deserved none of what He suffered, but endured it anyway – for the sake of you and I?
There could be no greater love.
He did what we steadfastly refused to do – He believed, in the midst of horrific suffering, that God is still beautiful, worthy, and good.
He then suffered for our rebellion – our refusal to love the King of the universe because we saw nothing to be gained from it.
As a result, He saw to it that nothing could ever again separate us from the love of God.
He restored the path of joyful and obedient suffering we had destroyed.
Now He beckons us to follow Him on this very path we once forsook.
A narrow path, He states clearly, that is the only way back home for us again.
But then Jesus died, Ed.
So He did.
Just like all of us do.
The disciples went home that day in deep grief.
Evil had once again had the final word.
Let’s not pretend. Nothing had changed.
Three days later, some devastated women went to finish preparing His body for interment.
It was the sad business of yet another sad day.
Except, an odd thing.
Upon arriving at the sepulcher . . .
. . . well, perhaps you know the rest of the story.
© Ed Hague. All rights reserved.
P.S. If you haven’t read it, here is C.S. Lewis’ retelling of this story from the wonderful children’s book, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”:
“You have a traitor there, Aslan,” said the Witch. Of course everyone present knew that she meant Edmund…
“Well,” said Aslan. “His offence was not against you.”
“Have you forgotten the Deep Magic?” asked the Witch.
“Let us say I have forgotten it,” answered Aslan gravely. “Tell us of this Deep Magic.”
“Tell you?” said the Witch, her voice growing suddenly shriller. “Tell you what is written on that very Table of Stone which stands beside us? Tell you what is written in letters deep as a spear is long on the firestones on the Secret Hill? Tell you what is engraved on the sceptre of the Emperor-beyond-the-Sea? You at least know the Magic which the Emperor put into Narnia at the very beginning. You know that every traitor belongs to me as my lawful prey and that for every treachery I have a right to a kill…that human creature is mine. His life is forfeit to me. His blood is my property…”
“It is very true,” said Aslan, “I do not deny it . . . Fall back, all of you,” said Aslan, “and I will talk to the Witch alone . . .”
. . .
The rising of the sun had made everything look so different – all colours and shadows were changed that for a moment they didn’t see the important thing. Then they did. The Stone Table was broken into two pieces by a great crack that ran down it from end to end; and there was no Aslan . . .
“Who’s done it?” cried Susan. “What does it mean? Is it magic?”
“Yes!” said a great voice behind their backs. “It is more magic.” They looked round. There, shining in the sunrise, larger than they had seen him before, shaking his mane (for it had apparently grown again) stood Aslan himself.
“Oh, Aslan!” cried both the children, staring up at him, almost as much frightened as they were glad.
“Aren’t you dead then, dear Aslan?” said Lucy.
“Not now,” said Aslan . . .
“But what does it all mean?” asked Susan when they were somewhat calmer.
“It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know: Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitors stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards . . .”
“And now,” said Aslan presently, “to business. I feel I am going to roar. You had better put your fingers in your ears.”
And they did. And Aslan stood up and when he opened his mouth to roar his face became so terrible that they did not dare to look at it. And they saw all the trees in front of him bend before the blast of his roaring as grass bends in a meadow before the wind.