Suffering. Who wants to talk about it? Yet what man doesn’t want an answer to his own suffering? The surprise of the New Testament is that no final, explicit answer is given for our own individual pains and tragedies. The answer presented instead is something completely unexpected—the suffering Jesus.
Crucifixion is probably the cruelest way to die ever invented. Even the word cross was seldom uttered in public at that time because of the horror and shame associated with it. Death came by slow exhaustion and eventually suffocation as there was no longer any strength to pull up one’s body on the nails to breathe. Added to Jesus’ unimaginable physical suffering was the emotional suffering of mockery from the watching crowd.
But the worst part of His suffering was spiritual. This is given a cosmic context as darkness came over the land from 12 to 3 PM (Mark 15:33). Darkness is spoken of by the prophets as accompanying the all-important Day of the Lord, but perhaps more significant is that the plague of darkness came right before the death of the Egyptian firstborn in the book of Exodus. It signified God’s cursing of the land and consigning it over to judgment. This is what Jesus felt now, the curse of the Father on His Son for the sins of humanity. For the first time in creation, the bond between the Father and Son was ripped apart. The love Jesus had always known to sustain and comfort Him, even that was now gone. He surely drank the cup of God’s wrath for us down to the bitter dregs.
But the question still remains: how does any of this help us understand our own suffering?
Some years ago, my mother died from a rare form of stomach cancer. Her last two months were especially brutal as we watched her slowly waste away from starvation. So many friends came to her visitation to tell us how much they loved her and how sorry they were. But I will never forget one person who proceeded to stop and give me a five-minute theological dissertation on why God had allowed this suffering in my mother’s life. It came off as not only inappropriate but insensitive. I remember feeling bothered and then angered by such a monologue.
My reaction triggers an insight. Perhaps we really don’t want an answer to our sufferings as much as we think. Perhaps what we need and ache for is presence, the presence of others, their comfort and love, and that’s just the kind of answer we get with Jesus. He doesn’t usually give us individual answers explaining all our suffering. If anything, He said that following Him would increase our suffering here. Remember that Job also never got a final answer to his suffering either, but he got something else, something better: he got to be in God’s presence and hear His voice. With Jesus, we get this and more. He came to take on all of the suffering we will ever know and then some that we will never have to experience. The God of the universe took on human flesh to come and share in our suffering, to be with us, to comfort us, and to tell us of His love. Then He sent His Spirit so that we could know and feel His presence in our hearts. This is what we most long for as men.
When Jesus asks us to follow Him, it’s an invitation to be with Him in all of our sufferings, both from this fallen world and from our connection with Him. This is not a ticket to despair, but an opening doorway into joy. All the saints throughout the ages can testify to this truth.
Let’s make every effort to enter that door so that we can also know that joy.
Bill Delvaux is a graduate of Duke University and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and has served as a pastor and a high school Bible teacher. Presently, he leads Landmark Journey Ministries as a speaker, small group coach, and author of Divided: When the Head and Heart Don’t Agree and Landmarks: Turning Points on Your Journey Toward God. Bill also serves as content editor for Stand Firm, LifeWay's devotional magazine for men. He and his wife have two grown daughters and reside in Franklin, TN. Follow Bill on Twitter @BillDelvaux.