God Suffers With Us

December 17, 2012

I can’t imagine anything more painful for a person than the loss of one’s child, and so I won’t pretend that I can adequately express the horror of the savage murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

When such tragedies occur, most of us engage in sober reflection about the preciousness of life and especially of our own loved ones. As much as we hurt for the families who lost children at the hands of this murderer, we thank God our children are safe.

But we know it can happen to any parent; these victims did absolutely nothing to provoke this wanton act of evil.

How could an all-powerful, all-loving God permit such horrors to occur? Indeed, isn’t the prevalence of evil in the world a major reason so many people through the years have rejected the notion of a personal God altogether? Isn’t it why St. Augustine flirted with Manichaeism and its idea of the duality of good and evil? Isn’t it why a few of our founding fathers latched on to belief in a deistic god who created the universe and human beings but then abandoned them to fend for themselves without any further intervention in history? Manichaeism, Deism and even Eastern religions don’t seem to present as severe a conundrum concerning the problem of evil.

Without question, apparent intellectual obstacles sometimes mask the greater root causes of our doubt, chiefly human pride and human sin, but I am convinced that intellectual doubts about evil and suffering are a genuine impediment to faith for some.

How terrible it would be for a tragic occurrence such as Sandy Hook to undermine people’s faith at the very time they most desperately need it.

In my spiritual journey, I’ve discovered, ironically, that certain questions that used to haunt me with doubt now serve to reinforce and even bolster my Christian faith.

With absolutely no intention of offending adherents of any other faiths, I firmly believe that no other worldview or religion comes close to describing and providing an answer for the human condition and for the evil, pain and suffering in the world.

As loving beings, we will never be able to process fully and bear such indescribable pain as the Sandy Hook parents are now experiencing. But the God of the Cross provides us authentic hope and refuge, because unlike any other gods ever contemplated by the mind of man, the God of the Bible suffers right along with us and, because of His superior capacity for love, to a degree immeasurably greater than even we experience.

Far from being an impersonal God, the God of the Bible created human beings in His image, knowing in advance that they would disobediently separate themselves from Him through sin and thus require His divine redemption. This, in turn, would require His own deep spiritual pain and suffering. For there was no other way for God to reconcile man to Himself than by lowering Himself to human form, suffering all the indignities of human existence, and then volunteering Himself for a humiliating and excruciating but wholly undeserved death on the Cross so that by faith in Him we could be saved as a result of His sinless life, his death and his ultimate triumph over death through His resurrection.

Evangelist Ajith Fernando wrote, “At the cross we see the immensity of God’s pain as He endured the sacrifice of Jesus. And God experienced that pain of the cross from the time He created the world, for the Bible describes Jesus as ‘the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.'”

That God was willing to suffer and sacrifice for us shows that He is a God who loves us and can relate to us (and to whom we can relate) through His own sufferings.

Christian writer John Stott beautifully encapsulated this idea. He wrote, “I could never myself believe in God were it not for the cross. … For the real sting of suffering is not misfortune itself, nor even the pain of it or the injustice of it, but the apparent God-forsakeness of it. Pain is endurable, but the seeming indifference of God is not. Sometimes we picture him lounging, perhaps dozing, in some celestial deck-chair, while the hungry millions starve to death. We think of him as an armchair spectator, almost gloating over the world’s suffering, and enjoying His own insulation from it. Philip Yancey has gone further and uttered the unutterable which we may have thought but to which we have never dared to give voice: ‘If God is truly in charge, somehow connected to all the world’s suffering, why is He so capricious, unfair? Is He the cosmic sadist Who delights in watching us squirm?’ Job had said something similar: God ‘mocks the despair of the innocent (Job 9:23).’ It is this terrible caricature of God which the cross smashes to smithereens. We are not to envisage Him on a deck-chair, but on a cross. The God Who allows us to suffer, once suffered Himself in Christ, and continues to suffer with us and for us today.”