Why did Jesus have to suffer and die? The question deserves an entire book, and has prompted may books, but among the answers the Bible gives is this most mysterious answer: suffering served as a kind of “learning experience” for God. Such words seem faintly heretical, but I am merely following Hebrews: “Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered”(5:8). Elsewhere, that book tells us that the author of our salvation was made perfect through suffering(2:10)
These words, full of fathomless mystery, surely mean at least this: the incarnation had meaning for God as well as for us. On one level, of course, God understood physical pain, having designed the marvelous nervous system that carries it to our brains as a warning against harm. But had a Spirit ever felt physical pain? Not until the incarnation. In thirty-three years on earth he learned about poverty, and about family squabbles, and social rejection, and verbal abuse, and betrayal. And he learned too about pain. What it feels like to have an accuser leave the red imprint of his fingers on your face. What it feels like to have a whip studded with metal lash across your back. And what it feels like to have a crud iron spike pounded through muscle, tendon, and skin. On earth, God learned all that.
In some incomprehensible way, because of Jesus, God hears our groans differently. The author of Hebrews marveled that whatever we are going through, God too has gone through. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet without sin”(4:14). We have a high priest who, having graduated from the school of suffering, “is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. Because of Jesus, God understands, our groans.
We need not longer cry into the abyss, “Hey, are you listening?” By joining us on earth, Jesus gave visible, historical proof that God hears our groans, and even groans them with us.