Why So Much Suffering?
Procession with Palms
Readings and Psalm
Luke 23:1-49, The passion of the Lord
My wood furnace is setup for heat through the coldest -40° temperatures. Now with spring arriving, at more than 2000°C inside the stove and at the ceiling hotter than 70°C, the heat is too much. What works for one extreme definitely needs adjusting for other circumstances.
Today’s lessons all (except for the Processional Gospel) speak about suffering. Everyone sees more than enough suffering in a lifetime, suffering of one kind or another.
During Holy Week, starting today with the Passion stories, we hear about Jesus’ suffering. Easily enough we wonder why all this suffering. We mean for ourselves, but it’s Jesus’ suffering we read about. The question really is, why does God not come and save Jesus, and us while God is at it, from all the terrible sufferings that Jesus and we must endure. After all God is all powerful, all loving, all knowing. Certainly God could do this, could he not?
Our question about our suffering, and Jesus’, is really a small part of a much larger, problematic question concerning our faith that has plagued thinking followers of Jesus since the earliest days after Jesus’ death.
The question is ‘Why did Jesus have to suffer?’ Or before that, ‘Why did Jesus have to go to Jerusalem?” Or even before that ‘Why all of it? Why did God need to become a human? Why did God need to give up existing beyond time, outside of matter, and before even words or thoughts and become limited by time, body, and human thoughts and words? Why did Jesus, to use Paul’s words, empty himself to become a mere human?’
First let’s look at the results of God becoming incarnate as Jesus and ending his life suffering on the cross.
Because of Jesus’ story you know beyond any doubt that all your sins are forgiven, that you are made right with God your Creator, that you deserve death yet you get life and life abundant. And all that applies to each of us. Then there’s the truly astoundingly awesome result of Jesus’ life: All of that applies to every human who ever lived.
The upshot of all that is that we humans do not need to strive to please God. God’s taken care of that. We can stand before God without fear, free from all the destructive actions that stem from unhealthy fear. We are free. We are free from all the guilt, the missteps, the risk of future missteps … we are free from all that would bind us, hold us back, and inhibit us.
What then are we free for? We are not free for our own selfish interests or pleasures that cost other people their lives.
We are free to sing out God’s praise.
We are free to declare Jesus is Lord with our tongues and actions. We are free to be Christ’s voice, feet, and hands, bringing the same news and the same abundant life to everyone on earth now and into the future.
Martin Luther named this freedom as a freedom to be slaves to Christ. Freedom from sin, and bondage to Christ’s way and will for us.
That is the result of Jesus living and dying as a human.
Now why? There are lots of answers, but the most profound is this:
How else is God to tell us about God’s will, God’s hope, God’s desire for us to be forgiveness for others?
The gulf between God and humans is incomprehensibly huge, by definition. We have a problem hearing God speak. Remember God is outside of time, matter, and any limit.
God spoke words to create the world, with us in it, and God said it was good.
Next thing you know we were messing with God’s goodness, turning the paradise into a competition to be smarter and blame the other. So we lost paradise and spiralled out of control … as murderers, just for starters.
Words cannot communicate to us clearly enough God’s intent for us.
So God gave us laws. We turned those into demands we placed on others to condemn and control them, to take life away from them, and to give us more of creation.
So God sent God’s only son. We have his story. It’s quite the story. We remember the most powerful events of it this week: Jesus’ triumphant entry on a lowly donkey into the capital Jerusalem run by Herod, controlled by Pilate. Leaders, present, try to minimize the stir and the inevitable collision. In response Jesus tells the religious leaders if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.
Yet fear permeates everyone around Jesus. The story continues with betrayal, desertions, denials, buck passing, flogging, mocking, disgrace, torture and death. The disciples become silent. As Jesus hangs on the cross, they are scattered, cowering in fear. God as a human dies.
As he dies Jesus the Son of God declares forgiveness even for those who torture and kill him. His followers retreat into hiding. Yet the faith grows and becomes codified and survives as a distinct religion, lodged in written Word and faithful people gathering to worship as often as possible.
God’s Son’s story is handed on from one generation to the next.
God gives us so much in one exemplary life, Jesus’ life, a life God encourages us to imitate as we hold the acceptable fast that brings justice, freedom, food, and homes to those without.
Jesus came that we would have and not lose this story, or the profound way it speaks about who God is and what God wishes for all people.
Jesus was truly human. He suffered as we suffer. This was not playacting. Jesus knew what it was to feel abandoned even by God.
As to our suffering, it’s like the wood furnace set to provide heat for the severe Canadian winter, which out of time or season overwhelms us and is as hot as hell (or so it seems.)
But it is precisely in our suffering that God teaches us how others suffer, and why it is so important that we not lose sight of God’s intent for us: that we sacrifice everything we can in order that all other people may have life abundant. In our suffering we most clearly encounter God’s Grace for us, and how it is meant to be shared with others.
The heat in due season, and our suffering taken on in order that others may live, give us the ability to survive even the most severe winter of the soul.
Jesus’ story is a story worth listening to, though so many people in the story do not listen at all. We pray we will not be one of them. Yet we are assured that no matter what, God forgives us, stays with us, and lives with us as if we had never sinned at all.
That is real freedom.
This week’s story is not one to celebrate with abandon. Jesus’ Passion is a sombre story to delve into, to remember and always learn more about.
God’s story in Jesus’ life story will never be done teaching us about the abundant life God has for us, each and all.