Victory over suffering
Good Friday. The crucifixion. The most intense suffering the world has ever seen. Jesus, God the Son, rejected, humiliated, tortured, executed in the most excruciating way possible. The greatest agony of all—separation from God the Father. Completely cut off. Abandoned, forsaken (Matthew 27:46). Two who had been in perfect, intimate, inseparable fellowship for all eternity are now torn apart.
This is beyond my comprehension, but I get a vague glimpse of it in this world. The sorrow that I feel when I lose a friendship to a foolish argument, or when one of us moves too far away, or when a loved one dies. Experts say the most stressful event a human being can go through is the death of his or her child. It brings intense, intolerable pain. But that’s only a shadow of the grief of God the Father and His Child on that Good Friday.
And then came Easter Sunday. Just as the first Good Friday witnessed the greatest suffering ever, so the first Easter announced God’s greatest triumph over all suffering.
He is risen!
How can I ever say this without experiencing the deepest reverence, the ultimate joy, the humble awe that God would demonstrate His complete mastery over all of our trials and afflictions by raising Jesus from the dead?
He is risen!
I’ve heard it so many times that I seldom appreciate the power behind those words. We evangelicals don’t wait until Easter to remember Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. We bring it to mind all year long. It becomes almost commonplace, everyday, ordinary. I forget the wonder of knowing that death, the ultimate in suffering, is defeated. And so I forget the consequence—God has the power to defeat the suffering in my life.
Not that I’ll never hurt again. Not that my heart will never break again. Not that I’ll go through life with a smile plastered on my face as I deny the reality of the misery in this world.
No more separation
One particular aspect of God’s triumph over suffering is often stressed in the New Testament. Jesus’ resurrection has ended the pain of the separation between God and us. The curtain in the temple has been torn in two (Matthew 27:51).
From what I understand of salvation in the Old Testament, it was based on faith, as in the New (Romans chapter 4). But the Holy Spirit wasn’t given to an individual permanently, like He is now. He was with a person, on the outside, not within the person. Even after being saved, someone could be alienated from God in the sense that His Spirit could leave them.
That changed with the resurrection. Since that momentous event, when we become Christians by grace through faith, the Holy Spirit comes to reside within us as a guarantee of our future life with God in heaven (Ephesians 1:13-14). He will never leave us. We will never again be estranged from Him.
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39).
We can never experience the rupture in our relationship with God that Jesus Himself went through. The result is that even in “all these things,” in trouble and hardship and persecution and famine and nakedness and the threat of death, we can be more than conquerors. With His continual presence, with His constant power, we can know something of God’s victory over pain and suffering as He confirmed it in the resurrection.
Occasionally, this comes in the form of relief from the source of the ordeal—an illness or injury healed, a financial need met, or a relationship restored. But even when the physical affliction continues, we have His spiritual resources to strengthen us: His love, His joy, His peace, His patience, His kindness, His goodness, His faithfulness, His gentleness, His enabling us to exercise self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior” (Habakkuk 3:17-18). This is a picture of the complete, total, absolute lack of all food whatsoever. Guaranteed starvation. And an expression of extreme faith by one who started out questioning and complaining: “How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?” (Habakkuk 1:2).
A greater good
Skeptics ask how we can believe in a good God in the midst of the trials and sorrows of this life. As I grow in my faith, as my relationship with Him deepens, as I get a little closer to understanding the enormity of what He’s done through Christ’s death and resurrection, I marvel over a different question: Why should this most perfect, most powerful, absolutely free God even care about me, much less make the greatest sacrifice possible so that I can have a relationship with Him?
In comparison to that and to the consequences that it brings, the worst trouble imaginable is hardly worth mentioning. Not that the suffering is so trivial, but that this relationship with God is so very great.
Until I can better grasp that, I will wallow in misery and self-pity. I will view my life from the world’s perspective and feel disappointed, cheated, bitter, angry. I will be unable to honestly say with Habakkuk, in spite of the difficulties of the moment, “I will be joyful in God my Savior.”
Even as I write this, there’s that voice in my head that magnifies the physical and emotional pain and minimizes His presence. But Jesus is drawing me nearer to the faith of Habakkuk as I journey through this life in inseparable, unbreakable, eternal fellowship with the good, kind, gracious, generous, loving God of the universe because . . .
He is risen!