Summary: On the cross, 1) Christ joined in our suffering, 2) Christ bore the results of our sin, 3) Christ gives us hope when we suffer
CROSS PURPOSES 2: SUFFERING FOR US
Suffering is a fact of life. People get sick, and die. Some endure constant pain or loss of abilities. Some feel the ache of loneliness or loss. Some are bullied, abused, abandoned, or enslaved.
The world is a place of suffering. War, disease, natural disasters, and hunger. Violence, discrimination, grinding poverty and helplessness.
Where is God in a world of suffering? What does God do about human suffering?
***In 2005, a tsunami drowned tens of thousands of people across South and Southeast Asia; Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, and Christians were all affected. Newsweek magazine published an article trying to characterize the answers of the various religions to the questions, “Why us? Why here? Why now?” The article reflected the views of everyday people—not religious scholars. This is what the writer discovered:
“’Buddhists look to the idea of karma and ask what they did, individually and collectively, that a tragedy like this happened.’ Their main concern will be to generate good merit that can be transferred to the deceased as a positive force in the next lifetime. To this end, families will go to a temple to pray or have a special ceremony performed by a monk acting as an intermediary in the transfer of merit.”
For Hindus in poor fishing communities, all of life is controlled by the play of capricious deities... “Like Shiva and other major deities, these local deities have the power to destroy as well as create. The ocean itself is a terrible god who eats people and boats, but also provides fish as food… ‘Relating to the local deity and cooling her anger through propitiation is more important than thinking about personal or collective guilt for what has happened.’”
For Muslims, “all that happens is God’s doing, and nature itself—wind, rain, storms—constitute signs of his mercy and compassion. Even the destructive tsunami must have some hidden, positive purpose….’they have this notion that God is testing them by taking away a child or a spouse. Will you lose your faith or continue to believe?’”
Christians “think of [their Savior] on the cross—the God who takes on human flesh… But even though the acceptance of suffering is deeply embedded in [their] worldview, the death of so many innocent children alone was an excruciating test of [their] believe that their God is a God of love.”**
Those responses can be found anywhere in the world, even among Christians. When people suffer, some ask, “What did I do to deserve this?” Some say, “Everything happens for a reason. God is testing my faith.” Some try to bargain with God, in the hope that if they are good, they will be spared. Others become angry with God, when he does not answer their prayers in the way they think a God of love should, to protect people from suffering.
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT SUFFERING?
In the Old Testament, we find the story of how God chose the descendants of Abraham as his special possession, so that through them, all people could be blessed. (We find the fulfillment of that in Jesus Christ!) As he promised, God made them into a great nation, and the 12 sons of Jacob became the 12 tribes of Israel. After the time of David and Solomon, the nation separated: 10 tribes as the nation of Israel, and 2 tribes as the nation of Judah.
God was faithful to his covenant, but his chosen people were not always so faithful. The results of unfaithfulness were devastating. In 722 B.C., the ten tribes of Israel were overrun by the Assyrians, and they were dispersed in the vast Assyrian kingdom. The nation of Judah lasted until about 600 B.C., when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and temple, and took the people into exile in Babylon.
We can imagine the confusion and questions of the people, as they were forced to go into exile. “Where is God?” “Has God abandoned us?” “Is there any hope for us in the future?”
Isaiah was a prophet in Judah, about the time the 10 tribes were taken away. The first 39 chapters of the book bearing his name were addressed to the people of Judah during that time. Chapters 40-66 seem to fit a later time—the time after the exile of Judah. Some speculate that those chapters were written during the exile of Judah—the Jews—by a later prophet. No matter who wrote the chapters, God’s message in those chapters had great meaning for exiles who felt abandoned by God, suffering in a strange land, seeking hope in a hopeless situation.
In Isaiah 41-53, we find a series of poems about a mysterious “servant of the Lord.” The identity of the servant is ambiguous. In some passages, the servant of the Lord is a collective term for God’s chosen people, as in Isaiah 41:8-9, “But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, you descendants of Abraham my friend, I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, ‘You are my servant’; I have chosen you and have not rejected you.” The servant represents the remnant of the nation of Israel.