Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Misunderstanding: the Plight of Suffering

"He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him.  He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.  Like one from whom people hide their faces He was despised, and we held Him low in esteem.  Surely He took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered Him punished by God, stricken by Him, and afflicted.  But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed."  (Isaiah 53:2b-5)
People have an eye for the beautiful, a taste for the delicious, a feel for the comfortable.  These abilities are gifts from the personal storehouse of a good Creator.

We tend to frown on pain and suffering.  We label and file them under "bad."  We don't like them in our own lives, and we tend to think less favourably of people who experience them.  We think these people
are "stricken by God."  This seems logical.

Artist: Meister des Rabula-Evangeliums
But  then what of Jesus?  He suffered not only one of the most painful methods of execution, but also the countless cuts, scrapes, and heartbreaks of human existence.  How can we reconcile our dislike of suffering with the fact of Jesus' first-born-and-beloved-of-God status?

Not only was Jesus a son, but He was a good son.  At the start of what is called Jesus' "ministry," the last three-ish years of His life, God introduced Him as, "my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased" (Matt 3:17, NRSV).  This forces us to rethink our attitude towards suffering, and those who suffer.

I can't claim to know why people suffer - neither the cause nor the purpose.  I have a few guesses.  But the example of Jesus makes me wonder if some element of suffering is not always redemptive.  Perhaps those who suffer always do so for the wrongs of others, in some respects.  Perhaps their sufferings bring us a measure of peace.  And perhaps their suffering is even necessary for healing to occur, even if in someone else's life.  If this is the case, then shouldn't all suffering be viewed as sacrifice, and sacrifice worth making?

Sacrifice is something we admire and even aspire to.
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