Daily devotion

The Suffering God

From the Old Testament we can gain much insight into what it “feels like” to be God. But the New Testament records what happened when God learned what it feels like to be a human being. Whatever we feel, God felt. Instinctively, who is affected by our own pain. As the young theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer scribbled on a note in a Nazi prison camp, “Only the Suffering God can help.” Because of Jesus, we have such a God. Hebrews reports that God can now sympathize with our weakness. The very word expresses how it was done: “sympathy” comes from two Greek words, sum pathos, meaning “suffer with.”

Would it be too much to say that, because of Jesus, God understands our feelings of disappointment with God? How else can we interpret Jesus’ tears, or his cry from the cross? One could almost pour our questions of God’s seeming unfairness, silence, and hiddenness into that dreadful cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” God’s Son “learned obedience” from his suffering, says Hebrews. A person can only learn obedience when tempted to disobey, can only learn courage when tempted to flee.

Why didn’t Jesus brandish a sword in Gethsemane, or call on his legions of angels? Why did he decline Satan’s challenge to dazzle the world? For this reason: if he had done so, he would have failed in his most important mission–to become one of us, to live and die as one of us. It was the only way God could work “within the rules” he had set up at creation.

All through the Bible, especially in the Prophets, we see a conflict raging within God. One the one hand God had a terrible urge to destroy the evil that enslaved them. On the cross, God resolved that inner conflict, for there God’s son absorbed the destructive force  and transformed it into love.



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