Choosing to Suffer

 

I’ve gone snowboarding three times in my life–each time ended badly. The most recent time was at a winter retreat a few years ago. Some students invited me to join them for a great “bonding experience.” So I took a board, went to the top of the hill, strapped myself in, aimed in the right direction (because I didn’t know how to steer), pushed off, and prayed for the best.

At first I flew down the hill in the direction I had aimed for. Everything was going great. Then I noticed a younger student fifty or so feet in front of me struggling to free himself from his own snowboard and get off the course. In a split second I had to choose, run the kid over or lean to the side and eat it on the hill.

I remember thinking “I can crash gracefully…” so I chose the latter.  I leaned to the right to tumble softly into the snow–unfortunately I did not see the snow bank in my tumbling zone. I hit the bank with my board, flinging my body and board in different directions.  I then felt my right arm bend in the opposite way it is supposed to. And I thought I heard something pop.

Pain shot up my arm and through my elbow and up to my shoulder, as I now lie covered in snow at the bottom of the hill trying to figure out what just happened. I saw the kid walking away completely oblivious to my altruistic act. And of course the students I was with enjoyed bonding by retelling others how bad I ate it.

Now it turned out that after about 24 hours, a lot of ice, and a lot of Advil, I started to believe I might actually be okay.  But here’s the thing… if I had known at the beginning of the day the pain and humiliation that was waiting for me at the bottom of the snow-covered  hill, I would have never gone snowboarding that day. “Bonding,” no matter how great, just would not have been worth that much pain.

I think most of us would react the same way. If we knew something painful was coming in our day, we would try to avoid it. We would try to change it.  For most of us, if we know that a situation has the potential to end badly, we avoid it altogether. Even if there’s a potential payoff.

Because who wants to suffer? Who chooses to suffer?

Jesus did.

What is amazing to me about Jesus is not that he suffered, but that he knew he was going to suffer and he chose to go through it 480px-Michelangelo's_Pieta_5450_cropncleaned_editanyway.

As a young Jewish man he certainly would have read (and likely memorized) scriptures like Psalm 22. He would have meditated on words like:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?

My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.

But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads.“He trusts in the Lord,” they say, “let the Lord rescue him.
Let him deliver him, since he delights in him…

Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help. Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me. Roaring lions that tear their prey open their mouths wide against me. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me. My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death…

Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet. All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.

 

Jesus would have read those words and known that, as God’s Messiah, those words applied directly to himself. Every day that Jesus read the Scriptures he looked into his future. Every day he read those words he had a choice to make: run away from suffering or choose to go through it.

Of course this suffering was not thrust upon Jesus. Before the creation of the world, Jesus as the Son of God chose suffering as the effective means of salvation for all who would put their trust in him. And even in his earthly ministry Jesus says, “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again” (John 10:18). And in Hebrews 12:2 we are told, “For the joy set before him, [Jesus] endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Before God spoke the words “let there be light” Jesus chose to suffer.  He chose to be humiliated, to be abandoned, to endure unimaginable pain. On earth he chose to be reminded of that future suffering from the moment he could read. Jesus knew what was coming and chose to go through it anyway.

Why?

Jesus was also interested in a bonding experience.  But he wanted more than just to make memories with friends. He wanted to see rebels of God become children of God.  He wanted to see sinners turned into saints. He wanted to do for people what they could not do for themselves. He wanted to take upon himself the suffering we not only deserve but so desperately try to avoid. Jesus chose to suffer so that one day we wouldn’t have to.

 

 

Evil and Grace

Jesus on cross black and white

Why did God let a madman shoot up a school? Better yet, why did He let Adam sin? Better yet, why did He let Satan into the garden? Better yet, why did He let evil into Satan’s heart?

Why is there evil at all?

Sure it’s true that God Himself through Jesus Christ came to rescue sinners from evil and to redeem the world. But why should the world and the people in it need rescuing in the first place? Is God like a man who built a house, rented it out to tenants and then set it on fire so that He could later rescue them? And even if we say that, in God’s case, He did not actively set the house on fire, He just allowed it to happen, He is still the one that had the power to stop it and chose not to. Why?

Some say God did not stop evil because He could not; others say He did not stop evil because He chose not to. Among those who say He chose not to stop evil, there are those who say it is because God is evil, and then there are others who say it is because God wants to work good from the evil.  In either case, God still appears evil. Because even a God who allows the ends to justify the means appears to be a God who is simply a manipulator of creation, like someone just doing the best He can with what He has to work with.

But the God of the Bible is none of these things. So why then did YHWH allow evil into the world?

Imagine evil never existed. Imagine Adam and Eve never sinned. And not only did they never sin they never had the option to sin, because evil was nowhere in existence. What then could we know of God? We could know His power.  We could know His intelligence. But we could never know His Grace.

Grace–unmerited favor–cannot be known in a world without evil.  Grace does not exist in a perfect world because in a perfect world everything is merited.  Every reward is the natural consequence of the perfect action that preceded it. But in a world where there is evil, there are many actions that merit condemnation, judgment, and even wrath. And in that world there is now space for Grace.

In an evil world there is now an open place for favor to be poured out where it should not be. In an evil world Grace shines brightly against the just consequence of condemnation.

Grace…an unknowable quality of God in a world without evil. Could it be that the great I AM is interested in displaying all of who He IS?

In Grace we see a characteristic of God that is wholly unlike any other conceived divine being. In Grace we see the holiness of God (His otherness). In Grace we see the beauty of God. In Grace we see the love of God in a way that otherwise would not be possible.

The Cross, the great symbol of Grace, is not just about salvation from evil, nor is it just about Jesus conquering evil. It is even more: it is a glorious beacon brightly shining in the darkness of night, displaying who God IS.

Evil is necessary for Grace. Grace is an essential attribute of God. God desires to fully display His attributes. Therefore evil exists.

What are your thoughts?