The Incarnation and The Problem of Suffering
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets,but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.
One of the fundamental beliefs we Christians hold to is that God stepped into this physical reality, became a man, suffered and died, and subsequently rose again from the dead. We believe in a God who is not merely familiar with our experience because He is the Author of reality as we know it, but in love He was willing to embrace our frame and live with us, as one of us. Our God lived essentially as a homeless man during the last years of His life, traveling around Israel preaching, healing, casting our devils, and raising the dead. He was acquainted with suffering, and He battled it daily as He liberated the oppressed men and women He came in contact with from their various afflictions. But it wasn't merely an observational familiarity, for our Christ suffered an excruciating and horrible death on the Roman cross.
We all experience pain, hurt, rejection, anxiety, fear, insecurity, and a myriad of others forms of suffering throughout our lifetimes. Some of these wounds are so deep they plague us continually hindering our relationships, distorting our perceptions of ourselves and others, and keep us far from the life our hearts ache to enjoy. Some of us simply feel stuck, frozen in time, locked in a relentless cycle of self-sabotage and self-destruction. Some of us experience suffering in how we treat others. We want love and nearness, yet fear of rejection causes us to keep our guards up and resist the affectionate advances of others. We all know suffering.
What I find intriguing about the Christian faith is that suffering is on full display throughout the Bible. It is not minimized or avoided, rather it is embraced as a harsh and devastating fact of our lives in this fallen world. Humans are depicted in raw honesty, with our failures, pain, and brokenness laid out bare for all to see. What I find simply astonishing about all of this, is God Himself willingly subjected Himself to unspeakable horror in one decisive act of sacrificial love. The cross was indeed where our sins were punished, where our justification was secured, but also it was where we saw that our God, our Abba, joined us in our own personal horrors and chose to experience what we experience.
God became a man for two reasons: So we could see who He really is, and so we could know with certainty that He can relate to us. We have comfort knowing that God can indeed relate to us in both our soaring moments and in the midst of our most devastating. God chose to endure not only our sins, but our pain and suffering. He is not looking at you from a cloud way up there, testing you to see how you respond to pain as though He needs you to prove yourself. No! He is with you right now, in the midst of your hardship, whispering to your heart and mine, "I will never leave you nor forsake you, I am with you to strengthen you, and to carry your burdens. Let me carry you now. I know what you are going through, and I will not leave your side. I will help you. Let me help you." He is with us, affectionately and compassionately gazing into our eyes, inviting us to lean into Him and His care.
I know of no other religion that believes in a God who is familiar with our pain and willfully chose to bear it in His own body. Our God in His vast compassion demonstrates in His incarnation and suffering that there is literally nothing He is not willing to do to prove His love and devotion to us.