The suffering God

So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”; as he says also in another place, “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.” In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. (‭Hebrews‬ ‭5‬:‭5-10‬ ESV)

I read this passage this morning, and it connected to some thoughts I’ve had in the past about suffering. So, I’m going to lay those out for you. This might be a bit rambly, but that’s what you get from me when I haven’t planned out my writing schedule as well as I’d like.

First thought: God uses suffering to prepare for calling. Here in Hebrews, the author is quite clear that Jesus suffered in order to make Him into what He needed to be to fulfill His calling. He needed to be made perfect (or complete) through the things He suffered. And I’m not just talking about the cross. I mean that Jesus walked the same world that we walk. A world where the strong have the upper hand, where the weak are crushed underfoot, where parents bury children, where happiness so often turns to dust. And, as He lived here, He “offered up prayer and supplications, with loud cries and tears[.]” Can we put it this way? It was too much for Him to carry, and so He needed to lean on the Father. Because it really is too much, and He felt that in His soul.

And He needed to feel that. He couldn’t be the person He was called to be without it.

I know that this matters to me, emotionally. Some of the most profound spiritual meditations I’ve experienced have been on Jesus in the garden on Maundy Thursday. When He sweat blood. When He begged God to change what was coming. When He was betrayed, not just by Judas, but by all His disciples.

I too have faced dark nights with no dawn. I too have felt the sting of betrayal. I too have begged God with “loud cries and tears.” And, honestly, if Jesus was somehow above it all, He hasn’t earned the right to have anything to say about it to me. Because, what does He know? Except, well, He does know. And so I can trust His words of comfort to me. And so I can trust His directions to me.

Jesus needed to suffer in order for Him to be my high priest. He needed to earn the right. And He has.

But that just pushes back the problem one step.

So, second thought: does the Father suffer? Does He feel the state of the world the way it is right now? Or is He too far removed to care?

This thought probably needs more development, but I’m going to lob it out here and see what happens.

In his second epistle, Peter writes:

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (‭2 Peter‬ ‭3‬:‭9‬ ESV)

The older word for “patient” is “longsuffering”. Peter is saying that God forbears from acting in final judgment, because He is giving space for repentance. Personally, I’m glad for this, because it means that there was time for me to exist and draw near to God. But, in the meantime, He is patient. He is longsuffering. He suffers.

Imagine coming home from a pleasant evening to find that your house has been broken into. As you enter into the house, you find your beautiful home has been violated. Spray paint on the walls. Your books thrown and scattered. Feces on the dining room table. What would you feel? Imagine the sorrow, the anguish, the anger, the deep sense of being wronged. And wouldn’t you want to put everything back as quickly as possible? Clean up the paint and crap? Make it like nothing bad had ever happened.

Isn’t that what happened to God? Isn’t that what we did to Him?

But He doesn’t clean it up right away. Instead, He says that He is so concerned about the perpetrators that He is willing to wait to clean up His home. He is more concerned about the criminals having a chance to repent than having a home that is perfect like it was.

And so He sits in the house and waits. It’s not time to clean yet. So He tolerates the paint on the walls and the poop on the table and the destruction and mayhem. He lives in the rubble, waiting for the criminals to come home. Because, until they are home, it won’t really be right.

And maybe that explains our suffering, too.

This brings me to my final thought: in the Eucharist, we enter into union with the suffering God who chose pain instead of giving up on recovering those of us who were lost. And so, from one perspective, our suffering is an act of love to those who have not yet repented. Release for us is the end for them. So, we cannot yet be released.

And maybe, even, as we have been made one with the One who carried all our pains on the cross, maybe we are also called upon to carry the pain of the world. Maybe we help to bring the future world into being by drawing the pain of this world into our own bodies. Maybe part of how redemption is accomplished is through the sacrifice of ourselves to lift the suffering of others. Maybe this is part of what it means to be “little Christs” in the world.

Maybe it’s not all in vain.

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