Echos from the Cross: Three Lessons on Suffering
Have you ever played the game where you take a simple sentence and see how the meaning changes when you change the emphasis? Start with, “Why did you eat that apple?” Now read it as, “Why did you eat that apple?” or “Why did you eat that apple?” or “why did you eat that apple?” or even “why did you eat that apple?” The meanings change significantly, don’t they?
Matthew 27:46 records Jesus’ anguished cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” How do you read these words by Jesus? The meaning is dependent upon where we place the emphasis. “Why have you forsaken me?” is a question of the purposes of God. “Why have you forsaken me?” is a question of the character of God. “Why have you forsaken me?” is a question of our position in the presence of God. Perhaps you have read this passage with different emphases at different times and in different circumstances in your life. We will look at these three interpretations in these next three blogs.
First, to emphasize why is to ask of God his purposes for us. It is the faith question. Behind it lies the questions, “Are you really sure about this?”, “Is there really a reason and purpose for this suffering?”, “Will it really be worth the price I am paying?” We ask believing that God is both sovereign and loving, that he is both in charge of things and in love with us. We search for a higher reason as to why our suffering is necessary.
As in all Christian theology, the answer here for us lies in the life of the one who is asking this very question for us. Jesus cries our cry in asking ‘why?’ And the answer comes not from a shout from the heavens or in a hand of lightening writing across the skies. It comes in the form of the babe of Bethlehem; God’s response to human suffering and death. It does not bring an end to all suffering through force, but it overwhelms all suffering with hope.
Simply put, Jesus felt the momentary, albeit excruciating forsakenness of God so that we would never have to! Our subsequent question of the ‘why?’ of God must be voiced from the foot of a cross where all such questions yield to His great suffering, and ultimately are replaced by a quiet, heartfelt doxology. God’s purposes are and always will be for our good. We have only to look at the cross for that assurance.
“Loving and almighty God, my ways are not your ways, and my thoughts are not your thoughts. Forgive me for calling you to account in these times of trial. Instead, Lord, fill me with the deep desire to know you even more as I struggle. Let my questions be turned into praise and my doubts into rejoicing. Keep me near the cross this Lenten season, and let my joy in the midst of trial be a blessing to others. In the name of our crucified, risen and returning Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.”