THE TEARS OF GOD - Ted Schroder
david at virtueonline.org
david at virtueonline.org
Fri Feb 24 12:57:34 EST 2012
THE TEARS OF GOD
By Ted Schroder,
February 26, 2012
During Lent I am going to reflect on portions of the four Psalms that Handel uses in Messiah. Psalm 22:7,8 is used to describe the religious leaders' ridicule of Jesus during his agony on the Cross as quoted in the Gospels.
"All they that see him laugh him to scorn: they shoot out their lips, and shake their heads, saying: 'He trusted in God that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, if he delights in him.'"
"Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, 'You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself. Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God.' In the same way the chief priests and teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. 'He saved others,' they said, 'but he cannot save himself. He's the King of Israel. Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, 'I am the Son of God.'" (Matt.27:39-44)
They saw suffering and God as incompatible. If Jesus were God he would not be suffering an ignominious death. His claims to be the divine Son are shown to be false by his crucifixion. Is this true? It provokes us to consider the relationship between Christian faith and suffering.
As a teenager Ted Turner was religious and decided he was going to become a missionary. His twelve year old sister contracted systemic lupus. Ted tried to comfort her and prayed for her recovery. After years of misery she succumbed to the disease. Ted lost his faith. "I was taught that God was love and God was powerful, and I couldn't understand how someone so innocent should be made or allowed to suffer so." (Ken Auletta, The New Yorker, 23 April, 2001)
Today many who have lost their faith have given as their reason the suffering of the innocent. They say: "how can a God of love allow such suffering. Either God is not good and loving or he is not powerful enough to do anything about suffering, or he simply does not exist." The reality of suffering seems to challenge faith in God. Why pray for healing when disease seems to have the last word? Either God doesn't hear us because he isn't there or he doesn't care.
Those who reject the Gospel, who reject Jesus as the Son of God, who laugh him to scorn for his claims, look for proof in deliverance or protection from suffering. They cannot accept that a good God would allow innocent people to suffer. They look for salvation in terms of immunity from suffering. When they get ill, are diagnosed with a disease, they are surprised, even annoyed and angry with God for allowing them to be so afflicted. They see such breaking down of the body as an aberration and an inconvenience to normal life. Why should it happen to me?
They cannot square the claims of Christ to heal the sick and raise the dead with the inexorable march of disease and eventual death for all people. The cross stands for mortality, for suffering humanity, sentenced to a painful death. "Abolish sickness and death and we will believe in him. How can we believe in eternal life, in the heaven that Jesus promised, when death seems so final?"
Bart Ehrman describes his loss of faith in his book, God's Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question - Why We Suffer. He cannot reconcile what the Scripture claims about the power, presence, and compassion of God and the hard facts of life. He doesn't believe that the God of the Bible intervenes in the hearts of the suffering, bringing them solace and hope in their time of darkest need. He doesn't know if there is a God, but he thinks that if there is one, he certainly isn't the one proclaimed by the Bible, the one who is actively and powerfully involved in this world. And so he stopped going to church. Except.....he misses God, and he doesn't have anyone to express his gratitude to for his life. "There is a void deep inside me, a void of wanting someone to thank, and I don't see any plausible way of filling it." His wife is a believer and he sometimes goes to church with her. He gets frustrated because he wants God to enter his world. "Where is the presence of God in this world of pain and misery?" Thomas G. Long in What Shall we Say? Evil, Suffering, and the Crisis of Faith, responds to Ehrman's complaint in a comprehensive way that is masterful.
The existence of God and the authenticity of Jesus as Son of God seem to depend upon a view of life that is idealistic, that is far from the reality we all know and experience. We know that life is full of suffering. The world has suffered from the beginning of creation. "We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time." (Rom.8:22) But those who reject God often do so because they cannot accept that God suffers in Christ. They cannot accept a view of God as suffering. Their God, that they reject, is a God of absolute power that is immune to suffering. God is a superman who is invulnerable to sorrow. Anything less, they think, compromises their view of God. God, a God who suffers, they reason, is weak, and therefore not God Almighty. He is not worth their allegiance. Nietzsche rejected the Christian God for this reason.
But God is portrayed in Scripture from the very beginning as touched with the sorrows of his people and concerned about them. Handel uses the words of Isaiah that he was a 'man of sorrows and acquainted with grief...surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows." (Isaiah 53:3,4) Despite the insults of the bystanders the last thing God wants to do is to come down from the cross. He is there for a purpose, to do a job, a work of salvation: to be pierced for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities, punished for our peace, wounded for our healing. He is not there to save himself but to save the world. God is on the cross suffering for the universe. The crucifix is more often associated with Catholic and Lutheran devotion than the Protestant tradition. Protestants see the empty cross as proclaiming the empty tomb of the resurrection. Yet there is value in the crucifix reminding us that God in Christ suffered for the sins of the whole world. In visiting a parishioner in Santa Rosa Hospital in San Antonio I asked her how she was doing. She replied, "When the pain gets bad I look at the crucifix on the wall and remember how Jesus suffered for me."
Suffering comes to each one of us in our time. We cannot escape suffering. We can fight against it and resent it, and complain about it, but it is part of our humanity. Jesus comes alongside us in our suffering. He offers to carry us through our suffering. He sometimes gives us reasons for our suffering when we cry 'why'. But suffering is no reason for rejecting the one who suffers for us. To the contrary, suffering should give us more reason to come to the Savior on the cross, and seek his healing and salvation. Instead of passing by and hurling insults at him, we will seek the shade of the cross, and draw on the strength of his divine love. Suffering leads us deeper into prayerful dependency. We seek for the grace we need, for the peace that passes all understanding, for the faith that endures and the hope that is the anchor of the soul. We reach out to others in the body of Christ to sustain us with their prayers.
Peter Kreeft writes, "What then is suffering to the Christian? It is God's invitation to us to follow him. Christ goes to the cross, and we are invited to follow to the same cross. Not because it is the cross, but because it is his.. Suffering is not the context that explains the cross; the cross is the context that explains suffering. The cross gives this new meaning to suffering; it is now not only between God and me but also between the Father and the Son...True love is willing to suffer. Love is the cross. ..We began with a mystery, not just of suffering but of suffering in a world supposedly created by a loving God. How to get God off the hook? God's answer is Jesus. Jesus is not God off the hook but God on the hook. That's why the doctrine of the divinity of Christ is crucial: If that is not God on the hook, on the cross but only a good man, then God is not on the hook, on the cross, in our suffering. And if God is not on the hook, then God is not off the hook. How could he sit there in heaven and ignore our tears?... Jesus is the tears of God." (Making Sense Out of Suffering, 139f.)
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