“We have to learn to climb the hill called Calvary, and from that vantage-ground survey all life’s tragedies. The cross does not solve the problem of suffering, but it supplies the essential perspective from which to look at it,” (John Stott, The Cross of Christ).
The Cross is proof that Christ not only understands but also feels our pain. This is one of the most magnificent and awe-inspiring truths about the Cross in relation to pain and suffering. One of the most fundamental and crucial points of the Cross in relationship to humanity’s suffering is the suffering that Christ endured on the Cross. Why is this a significant truth?
Christ is not Indifferent
The reason is because the sufferings Christ endured on the Cross demonstrate that Christ not only understands man’s suffering but also experienced it Himself. John Stott writes,
“The real sting of suffering is not misfortune itself, nor even the pain of it or the injustice of it, but the apparent God-forsakenness of it…Pain is endurable, but the seeming indifference of God is not.” (Stott, The Cross of Christ, p. 329).
The Cross stands as an eternal reminder that Christ is not indifferent to the sufferings of mankind.
Man’s ongoing struggle is to reconcile God’s power, goodness and love and the daunting fact of human suffering. What man wants to know in his discouragement and despair is that God not only has power but that He cares.
“I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross. The only God I believe is the One Nietzsche ridiculed as God on the cross.”
The Scriptures reveal that God the Father has compassion over the weaknesses and suffering of His children. Though weak, God the Father has compassion upon His own. Psalm 103:13-14 says, “Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. 14For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.”
Commenting on this passage, Richard Sibbes writes, “…he (God the Father) has bound himself in covenant to pity us as a father pities his children…and to accept as a father our weak endeavours,” (Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed, p. 56).
The Cross of Christ provides undeniable proof that Jesus suffered and thereby understands humanity’s suffering. The Cross is the answer to man’s desperate plea for answers to the dilemma of suffering. The Cross tells us that Christ not only possesses power, but that He knows and feels our deepest pain.
John Calvin wrote, “For by his birth he was made like us in all respects [Heb. 2:17] that he might learn to feel our pain [cf. Heb. 5:2],” (Calvin, Institutes, p. 527). John Stott writes, “I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross. The only God I believe is the One Nietzsche ridiculed as God on the cross,” (Stott, The Cross of Christ, p. 335).
Suffering and the Incarnation
The Incarnation, the truth that God entered the world, became a man and suffered is alien to world religions. Indeed, this is one of the most salient truths that separate Christianity from all world religions.
For example, Hinduism teaches that the ultimate reality (i.e., God) is impersonal and without attributes. Both, Hinduism and Buddhism explain that the existence of pain and suffering results from the amount of karma one accumulates, (see Ajith Fernando, The Supremacy of Christ, p. 204).
“The cross of Christ is God’s only self-justification in a world like ours.”
Islam views God as too exalted and transcendent to suffer and be affected in the way the Bible describes Christ (cf., Isa. 53:3; Matt.27:46; Jn. 11:35). For example, the Qur’an says of Allah, “Nothing is like Him” (Surah 42:11), (Dean Halverson, The Compact Guide to World Religions, p. 20.).
Such a statement seems to echo the Bible’s teaching on the holiness and transcendence of YHWH (e.g., Isa. 40:18, 25; 46:5; 55:8-9; Ps. 40:5).
However, Dean Halverson, a world religion specialist makes the following observation, “Islam takes such a statement to an extreme. For example, one Muslim commentator writes, ‘So transcendent is the Divine Being [that He is] even above the limitation of metaphor’ (Ali, 918). If God is unlike all metaphors, then it becomes impossible for humanity to conceive of what He is like. In essence, then, nothing can be known about God, which is to push Him away,” (Halverson, The Compact Guide to World Religions, p. 20.).
Incomprehensible but not Inconceivable
The very foundation of Islam rests upon an inconceivable view of God. The Bible does set forth the incomprehensibility of God (Isa. 55:8-9; Rom. 11:33-36). Man is incapable of fully comprehending God’s ways or thoughts (Isa. 55:8-9). God has not revealed himself exhaustively yet He has revealed Himself truly. Though God is incomprehensible to our finite minds, He is not inconceivable.
Dean Halvorsen notes that this is a necessary distinction that must be understood. Halvorsen writes,
While the Christian would agree that God is incomprehensible, he or she should not say He is inconceivable, which is what the non-Christian religions are making God to be. Because God is infinite, says Christianity, He is indeed incomprehensible to our finite minds. Because God is personal, though, we can know Him and make statements of truth about Him. Because God is personal, He is knowable at the core of who He is, even though He is incomprehensible to us in the infinity of His Being (Halverson, The Compact Guide to World Religions, p. 20 (see also, John Calvin, Institutes, 1.10.2).
Thus, we find John, in his Gospel asserting, “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him (John 1:18; emphasis mine). Quite literally, John states that Jesus has “exegeted God.”
It is through Jesus that we come to most fully understand and know God. Our faith rests upon God’s Word whereby we come to the true knowledge of Christ as He is offered to us in the Gospel (cf., Eph. 4:20-21; 1 Tim.4 :6). Though Christ was made known under the Old Covenant, a fuller manifestation of Christ has come to us in the Gospel in the New Covenant (cf., 2 Cor. 3:7-18; Heb. 1:1-2).
“It is through Jesus that we come to most fully understand and know God.”
The foundation of Islam also rests upon a fatalistic view of God and reality. Ajith Fernando provides this helpful insight,
Although everything comes from God, He is not responsible in the sense that He has to answer for what is happening…that which happens is God’s will, and it must happen. The name Islam itself means “submission to God.” The Muslims show a strong militancy when it comes to struggling for the cause of God and his religion, as their commitment to Jihad, or holy war, shows. But when it comes to things like personal tragedy, sickness, financial reversal, and extreme poverty, an attitude of resignation prevails. This is evidenced by their common use of the Arabic expression, Insha’llah, meaning “if God wills.” Therefore, there is great reluctance to question the providence of God in permitting tragedies to happen. However, the Bible is straightforward in its teaching on the suffering Savior, (Fernando, The Supremacy of Christ, pp. 205-206).
The Uniqueness of the Cross
Such problematic and false understandings of God fail to provide any legitimate grounds for grappling with the problem of pain and suffering. They lead only to hopelessness and despair. It is here that the Cross of Christ stands utterly unique among world religions.
Only the cross of Christ is capable of providing an answer and solution to humanity’s dilemma of pain and suffering. P.T. Forsyth wrote, “The cross of Christ is God’s only self-justification in a world like ours.”
As evil as the terrorist bombings in New York City and Washington D.C. were, from the Biblical perspective, there was no greater injustice, no greater evil act as the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
If one wishes to know how much God is angered by sin, let him look to the Cross. Erwin Lutzer points out that at the Cross “love and justice meet in one momentous catharsis of divine emotion,” (Lutzer, Ten Lies About God, p. 74).
A Sympathetic Savior
The good news is that Christ’s solidaristic love for believers did not end with the cross. He continues to sympathize with our pain. Hebrews 4:14-15 states,
“14Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.”
Though the Cross may not answer all of our questions, in it we do have the historical and undeniable proof of Christ’s understanding and sympathetic love. Moreover, the cross becomes for us our source of joy and hope. Why? Because of the unambiguous declaration of the New Testament that the Cross of Christ is God’s objective, decisive victory over all the powers of darkness.
“The cross somehow invades us as the only reasonable point of definition for a wounded world.”
The Cross of Christ is both God’s demonstration of His sovereign defeat of sin, satan and death (Col. 2:13-15) as well as His sympathetic love and care for man in his suffering. As Ravi Zacharias writes, “The cross somehow invades us as the only reasonable point of definition for a wounded world,” (Zacharias, Cries of the Heart, p. 60).
By becoming fully human, Jesus became fully capable of understanding and sympathizing with His people. When doubts assail the believer, it is at this point that he must cast himself into the arms of Christ and look to Him, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief (cf., Isa. 53:3). At the foot of the Cross is where the troubled believer will find an all-sufficient and sympathetic Savior.