Jesus’ death is the cornerstone of the Christian faith, the most important fact of his coming. What possible contribution to the problem of pain could come from a religion based on an event like the cross, where God’s own self succumbed to pain?
The apostle Paul called the cross a “stumbling block” to belief, and history has proved him out. Jewish rabbis question how a God who could not bear to see Abraham’s son slain would allow his own Son to die. The Koran teaches that God, much too gentle to allow Jesus to go to the cross, substituted an evildoer in his place. Even today, U.S. television personality Phil Donahue explains his chief objection to Christianity: “How could an all-knowing, all-loving God allow His Son to be murdered on a cross in order to redeem my sins? If God the Father is so “all-loving’ why didn’t He come down and go to Calvary?”
All of these objectors have missed the main point of the gospel, that in some mysterious way it was God who came to earth and died. God was not “up there” watching the tragic events conspire “down here” God was in Christ, said Paul, reconciling the world to himself. In Luther’s phrase, the cross showed “God struggling with God” If Jesus was a mere man, his death would prove God’s cruelty; the fact that he was God’s Son proves instead that God fully identifies with suffering humanity. On the cross, God absorbed the awful pain of this world.
To some, the image of a pale body glimmering on a dark night whispers of defeat. What good is a God who does not control the Son’s suffering? But another sound can be heard: the shout of a God crying out to human beings, “I LOVE YOU.” Love was compressed for all history in that lonely figure on the cross, who said that he could call down angels at any moment on a rescue mission, but chose not to–because of us. At Calvary, God accepted the unbreakable terms of justice.
And thus the cross, a stumbling block to some, became the cornerstone of Christian faith. Any discussion of how pain and suffering fit into God’s scheme ultimately leads back to the cross.