The Preceder

"The promises Jesus made must have seemed especially empty to the people who lived in His day. At the end, He was standing before Pilate, a perplexed Roman governor. Outside, the masses were yelling, "Kill him! Kill him!" He who had healed so many others would not save Himself. This man King? A mock king if ever there was one. Someone had thrown a fine, purple robe over Him, but blood from Pilate's beatings streaked down His back and legs, clotting on the cloth.

More unlikely - this man God? Even to His disciples, who had loved Him and followed Him for three years, the prospects were dim. They hung back in the crowd, afraid to be identified with the mock king. Their dreams of a powerful ruler who could banish pain and suffering in the world turned to nightmares. The scene, with the sharp spikes and bleeding death and wrenching thud as the cross was dropped in the ground, has been told so often, that we, who shrink from a news story on the death of a race horse or of baby seals, flinch not at all at its retelling.

Jesus' humanity and the weight that He bore crashed to the surface when at the peak of His agony He, the teacher of prayer, suddenly realized His own prayers were going unanswered. Deserted by men, He found Himself deserted by God and cried out, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" It was as if the earth convulsed. The ground shook, rocks shattered, graves spilled out bodies long dead, and the sun was hidden from earth for three hours. Incredibly, the Creator of the universe demonstrated one last human quality, the quality of courage, which no omnipotent Sovereign would normally be called on to experience. His soul passed a breaking point, but it did not break. His life seemed prematurely wasted. His triumphant words from the night before surely must have cruelly haunted His followers as they watched Him groan and twitch on the cross.

What possible contribution to the problem of pain and suffering could come from a religion based on an event like the Crucifixion? There, God Himself succumbed to pain. We are not abandoned - none has to suffer alone. Because God came, He fully understands. The image Jesus left with the world, the cross, the most common image in the Christian religion, is proof that God cares about our suffering and pain. He died of it. Only one religion has a God who cared enough to become a man and to die. To some, the image of a pale body glimmering on a dark night whispers of defeat. What good is a God who does not control His Son's suffering? What possible good could such a God do for us? But a louder sound can be heard: the shout of a God crying out to man, "I LOVE YOU." Love was compressed for all history in that lonely, bleeding figure. Jesus, who had said He could call down angels at any moment and recue Himself from the horror, chose not to - because of us. For God so loved us, He sent His only Son to die for us."

~ Chapter 13: The Preceder, Philip Yancey, Where is God When it Hurts?