Our Suffering and the Cross

Over at Jesus Creed, a regular comment box writer who goes by RJS has been doing a series of posts on a book called The Reason for God.  It has been a great series, but for whatever reason, today’s installment particularly struck me.  It discusses Chapter 13 of the book, which is The (True) Story of the Cross.  IMO, there is a tendency on the part of evangelical Christians to view the cross as simply a matter of forgiven sins and little else.  OTOH, there is a tendency in some progressive circles to see the cross as foolishness – almost an embarrassingly outdated myth.  While of course, I agree much more with the evangelical view of the cross, it seems to me that it actually reduces the cross to frame it as simply a quid pro quo for our sins.  In the discussion at Jesus Creed, RJS presents part of what the book has to say in regards to the issue of sacrificial/substitutional nature of Jesus’ death on the cross:

The Gospel of Christ – the good news – is wrapped up in the story of the cross. This story however causes a great deal of consternation in our western world. Why was sacrifice required? Why did Jesus die? Isn’t the appeasement of the wrath of God best classed as divine child abuse — a remnant of an older more primitive society? . . . Forgiveness always requires sacrifice. When we forgive we bear the consequence, the suffering, ourselves rather than demanding retribution. No one “just forgives” any grievous wrong. How much more then for God? God did not, then, inflict pain on someone else, but rather on the Cross absorbed the pain, violence, and evil of the world into himself.”

That last part is probably the best explanation of the sacrificial nature of the cross which I have read.  RJS, goes on to talk about how death on the cross also helped us to understand that God can identify with our pain, injustice and oppression.  In conclusion he asks:

what is the Story of the Cross? How would you describe the importance of the cross? Is the importance in example? in story? or is it more?”

Normally, I would just post in the comment box at Jesus Creed, but it’s been so long since I posted here that I figured I would put my response here and call it a blog post! 😉

While I totally agree with the idea that Jesus paid the price for our sins on the cross and that His sacrifice allowed us to be reconciled to God, there is something else which I appreciate as much or even more about Jesus’ death on the cross.  It has to do with the issue of suffering.  When God choose to allow His own suffering and death on the cross, God reshaped the role of suffering in all of our lives.  As humans we tend to avoid suffering, sometimes to our own detriment.  Scott Peck claimed that the avoidance of suffering was at the root of mental illness (an exaggeration to be sure, but an observation not completely without merit).  It also seems to me that a great deal of evil has been committed by those trying to avoid pain and suffering for themselves or their group.  Yet Jesus modeled not only how to suffer, but a willingness to endure suffering “for the joy set before Him”.  Through his willingness to embrace suffering,  Jesus offers us an alternative to our often unhealthy compulsion to avoid suffering through whatever means necessary.  While Jesus does not seek to suffer, going so far as to ask God to “take this cup” from Him, He is willing to submit to suffering in a way which is foreign to many of us.

We also see in Jesus’ suffering the road to redemption.  Suffering is not simply meaningless pain, but something which greater good can come.   We tend to view suffering as the result of our own sin, bad luck, punishment, etc.  However, the truth of the matter is that no matter how good we are, how lucky or careful we are to avoid it, suffering is a part of every life.   But Jesus shows us a better way.  Suffering and redemption are connected in ways which we often do not like to acknowledge.

Suffering is part of life.  Sometimes it breaks us, sometimes it hardens us, but if we let it, our suffering, like Jesus’ can also lead us to better things and deeper places.  When Jesus suffered and died, He completed the injunction to “take up your cross and follow me”.   Jesus’ call isn’t simply to follow Him in our suffering.  Rather, He is calling us to follow Him through the suffering and into the redemption which awaits on the other side.

To me, this new perspective on suffering is a precious gift.  Through the cross, Jesus gives us a whole new relationship with suffering.  Since we are all destined to suffer in some way, I think it is both healthier and more productive to understand our suffering in light of the example of the cross rather than as something to simply be endured or always fought against.  It gives meaning to those places which seem the most senseless and staves off despair when life seems most hopeless.

5 thoughts on “Our Suffering and the Cross

  1. Jesus suffered on the cross. Let’s also remember that he was God incarnate. Jesus was “God with us,” and had condecended to our level by leaving God’s side in heaven and lowering himself to life on earth in a body of flesh. During his life he was hungry, thirsty, hurt emotionaly and physically, grieved, wept, and ultimatley bleed and died. I am most struck by his words on the cross when he said “I thirst.” This was the one who created water in first place; but for us, the sinful people who turned against God’s will, he humbled himself to being thirsty.

    Back at Easter I wrote on this subject in a post titled “He Cannot Save Himself.” http://themasterstable.wordpress.com/2008/03/20/he-cannot-save-himself/ Could Jesus have come down from the cross and saved himself? Certainly; but that’s not what he came to earth to do.

  2. Rebecca, you have reminded me of this wonderful quote:

    “The only ultimate way to conquer evil is to let it be smothered within a willing, living, human being. When it is absorbed there, like blood on a sponge or a spear thrown into one’s heart, it loses its power and goes no further.”

    -Gayle Webbe, The Night and Nothing

  3. To be redeemed is not merely to be absolved of guilt before God, it is also to live in Christ, to be born again of water and the Holy Spirit, to be in Him a new creature, to live in the Spirit.
    ~Thomas Merton

    Becoming a Christian is not so much inviting Christ into one’s
    life as getting oneself into Christ’s life. ~Orthodox Study Bible

    When we finally allow life to take us through the Paschal Mystery of passion, death, and resurrection, we will be transformed.  At this stage we’ll have found the capacity to hold the pain, not to fear it or hate it or project it onto other people.
    Actually, it’s really God holding the pain in us, because our little self can’t do it.  But the Big Self, God in us, can absorb it, forgive it, and resolve it.  We know it is grace when we no longer need to hate or punish others, even in our mind.  We know someone else is working through us, in us, and for us.  Our little life is not our own henceforward, nor do we need it so much.  We are now a part of the Big and One Life. ~Fr. Richard Rohr, Founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation

    Spiritual Development Program

    30. Living Paschal Mystery

    Central to understanding Christ is to understand the Paschal mystery. However, we tend to think of it only as Jesus’ passion and death. Actually, the Paschal mystery is Jesus’ passion, death, resurrection and Pentecost. What were historical events became ongoing process and is at the heart of Incarnational spirituality.

    No longer limited by time or geography, the Risen Christ has created through His ongoing Incarnation in us real-time, on-line continuity with Jesus’ earthly Incarnation. Especially with His passion, death, resurrection and gifting us with His Spirit. When we enter deeply into this Paschal mystery, we experience Christ on two levels.

    First, we are connected more intensely with Jesus in His passion and death. When we prayerfully meditate on Jesus’ passion and death, not as something outside of us but as something inside of us, we are not just creating concepts and images of the suffering and dying Christ in our minds. We are unleashing a dynamic process. We are unleashing the indwelling of the Risen Christ, Who gifts us with His Spirit Who pours the love of God into our hearts. Through this process, we identify more closely with the sufferings of Jesus such as those in the Garden of Gethsemane and His death on the cross.

    Second, in encountering the Paschal mystery we are connected more intimately to the Risen Christ as we live our own lives with their many passions, deaths, resurrections and transformations by the Spirit. In his book, Intimacy with God, Cistercian Father Thomas Keating explains the connection in this way.

    As Christians, we believe that Jesus in His passion and death has taken upon Himself all of our pains, anxieties, fears, self-hatred, discouragement and all our accumulation of wounds that we bring from our child hood and our childish ways of trying to survive. That is our true cross. That is what Jesus asks us to accept and share with Him. When we enter deeply into our experiences of the Paschal mystery, we are entering into something that has already happened, namely our union with Jesus as He carried our crosses. Jesus’ cry of abandonment on the cross is our cry of a desperate alienation from God, taken up into His, and transformed into Resurrection and gift of the Spirit.

    Again, we unleash a dynamic process as we identify our many passions and deaths with those of Jesus. Gradually we place our faith in the Indwelling of the Risen Christ and place our hope in Jesus’ victory, entrusting our wounded lives to Him. Gradually, the Spirit strengthens our faith through the gifts of wisdom and gradually enlightens us with self-understanding, enabling us to fathom our compulsions and weaknesses. Gradually we experience being healed of our emotional wounds and the wounds we have inflicted on our conscience. All of which leads us to greater love of Christ.

    However, the impact of our entering deeply into the Paschal mystery does not stop at our own self-healing. As the love of the Spirit is poured forth in our hearts, we bond with others in the Body of Christ and act as channels of the Spirit’s healing of the world. Fr. Keating writes “We will not know the results of our participation in Christ’s redemptive work in this life. One thing is certain: by bonding with the crucified One we bond with everyone else, past, present and to come.”

    In our spiritual journey we will invariably encounter many deaths—the death of our youth, the death of our wholeness, the death of our dreams, the death of our honeymoons. They can be Paschal deaths, deaths that are real but do not end possibilities if we take them to the crucified One and set in motion the process of identifying with Jesus and allowing the Spirit to empower us to live our new lives. If we allow them, our Paschal deaths will open up Paschal resurrections and achieve greater intimacy for us with Christ.

    First Posted June 19, 2001
    2001 NY Cursillo (English).

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