Suffering of the Almighty God
Why should suffering be an important matter for Christians? During the time when the gospel began to circulate around the world, most of Greeks had no conflict with the beliefs in the virgin birth of and incarnation of God in the flesh, because the Greek legends and mythologies also taught similar themes to their adherents. The Greek gods were portrayed as human beings and having intimate and even sexual relationship with human beings. The Jews contended for the existence of the one mighty God who created the universe and mocked the idols and false gods molded in the images of creatures. What the Greeks and Jews could not accept was the cross-bearing suffering of God and the self-giving and self-sacrificing love of the incarnated God-Man: not just a suffering of a god, but that of God almighty. This revelation did not make any sense to them. Even for our days, it is difficult to swallow that it must be pressed little further.
Generally speaking, Christianity has dual understandings on suffering. On the one hand, there is an idea of suffering that originates from sin as the cause of all sorts of suffering. This type of suffering is evil, cruel, and repulsive. There is nothing good in it that its sole purpose is to destroy us, inflict pains on us. It involuntarily comes upon us, like a thief at night that we cannot predict its coming and going. It also comes upon us voluntarily from the evil force and its agents who deliberately strive to separate us from seeking God and obeying his commands. Remember Paul’s teaching? “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12). We strive to eradicate the existence of suffering in our lives and make every effort to avoid it, ignore it, and stay the hell away from it. Honestly, I don’t like it; actually, I hate every kind of pain, whether physical, psychological, or spiritual. I bet you feel the same way about it. From various types of suffering, we ask God for his deliverance that scoops us out of our miseries. In this case, suffering is an object that must be overcome at all costs.
On the other hand, there is another interpretation on suffering, the suffering that rises not from sinful nature, weakness, selfishness, or self-gain, but from holiness, love, and patience. God teaches us that “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). This self-sacrifice, not compulsive and unpredictable, voluntarily engages itself in the realm of darkness, helplessness, and hopelessness, understanding and even knowing the severity of the affliction and its horrible consequences, not reluctantly and redundantly, but with joy and gladness. God revealed to us about this through Peter: “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit” (1Pet. 3:18). This self-sacrifice is self-giving, the whole self and every part of it, for the purpose of the triune fellowship with the Father, Son, and Spirit, for the burning zeal to embrace his children into the magnificent kingdom of God to glorify and worship the mighty name of Yahweh forever. Jesus taught his disciples about the intimate fellowship: “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. he glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one” (John 17:20-21).
This suffering is founded in infinite perfection in power, omnipotence (Gen. 17:1), knowledge, omniscience (Ps. 147:5), time, eternity (2 Pet. 3:8), presence, omnipresence Jer. 23:23-24), and self-sufficiency and self-existence, aseity (Exod. 3:14). Even though this suffering enters the territory of pain and affliction, is more severe than any pain that has existed and will occur in the history of creation, and is undeserving and unfair, nothing can overwhelm and penetrate it, for it is the suffering of the Almighty, Elohim. He can and will overthrow the cause, consequences, and existence of all suffering and evil, the first type of suffering, forever through his supremacy that created the universe from no existing material, foreknowing its defeat and inability to separate God’s people from his love, allowing it to impact him temporarily, being in all places with those who experience hardships caused by sin, eternally conquering it, making everything even our agonies meaningful and marvelous through his amazing counsel, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). This is the wonder working God who make a way in the wasteland and streams of water in the desert.
Self-sacrificing suffering of Jesus the Christ was exercised through humility. The infinite God deserves nothing but glory, honor, and praise. His beautiful name that is above all names is far from the name of suffering. However, he suffered. Isaiah portrays the undeserving infliction well in 53:4-6: “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Even though he is God, in humility, he did not consider himself equal with the Father (Phil. 2:8). Instead of his will, he obeyed the will of the Father (Luke 22:42). Jesus’ mission and self-sacrifice was grounded on meekness and humble heart (Matt. 11:29).
It is my conviction that the suffering of Jesus Christ, the Son who is infinitely perfect as the Father and Spirit, is the cardinal of Christianity. Suffering of the sovereign God was foolishness to unbelievers. Nevertheless, the suffering of the Son was living hope for believers, a hope that grew in them and gave them strength and comfort, a hope that moved them to have fellowship with the Spirit and fellow brothers and sisters sharing their lives, to make disciples of all nations, and to rejoice where no reason and circumstance existed. The voluntary passion of Christ enrooted in the unconditional love and infinite perfections was the essential message of the life-transforming gospel and the urgent wisdom of the Holy Spirit that he desired to convey through Peter to the persecuted churches and to the future generations that will forsake the cardinal of Christianity. Therefore, it is critical that we understand the Christian way of suffering, the third interpretation on suffering. Thus, in next post, I will explore more about the third interpretation on suffering as God revealed to us through Peter’s Epistle.