As we follow Christ through His Passion, it becomes apparent that when God created suffering He reserved the worst for Himself. We have struggled for centuries with the question of “Why does God let bad things happen to good people.” This is a valuable area of inquiry. Perhaps, though, we Christians should spend more time pondering the question of why God had to choose the path of such horrific suffering for Himself in order to bring redemption to our shattered relationship?
This is a question that cannot be answered this side of glory. However, we can still make progress by accepting the settled fact that God did choose to take this path and think through the implications.
One of the most powerful implications of the Passion is that there is a redemptive possibility within the experience of suffering. The fact that the redemption of our very souls was achieved through the suffering of the Son of God sends a powerful message about the nature of and possibilities of this experience. Reading the non-Gospel Books of the New Testament clearly shows that Christ’s example profoundly changed the early church’s understanding of suffering. We should also open ourselves to these lessons.
The physical suffering of Christ is essential because it is the only aspect of His Passion with which we can truly identify. For example, imagine the power of a Gospel that rested only on the “spiritual suffering” of a savior. Would it have the same capacity to shake us out of our complacency, to confront us with the scandal of our sin, to drive us to our knees in shame? You know the answer.
It also becomes clear that one of the main reasons for the Incarnation itself was so that we could witness Christ’s actual physical suffering. We often think of Jesus the babe, the teacher, the friend and the healer when we consider God made flesh. But had Jesus not been all man, He could not have been the sufferer.
When we read Job, the skeptic within us sometimes shakes its fist at what appears to be an invulnerable, uncaring, capricious God, who has unleashed terrible suffering on a good man. What says that skeptic when the extent to which this God will go to redeem that which has been lost is revealed? Who would dare to compare the suffering of Job with that of Jesus Christ? No. After this we can never again think of suffering as merely a human experience. God Himself has descended to suffer on our behalf so that we might be saved. If that knowledge can’t bring a heart to repent then nothing can.