We all suffer to some degree at some time. Not all suffering is the same.
We all experience physical pain, some more than others. Pain describes a toothache, a broken leg or a burn. However, these certainly are not all the same, and some pain is much more debilitating than other pain. Some people endure chronic pain that never goes away, and again there are varying degrees and types of chronic pain.
Pain and suffering cause many to question God, and some to reject the faith. Many question, “How can a loving God allow suffering?”
Job and his friends tried to explain and understand Job’s suffering and ended up repenting before the wisdom of God. Job said:
2“I know that you can do anything, and no one can stop you. 3You asked, ‘Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorance?’ It is I—and I was talking about things I knew nothing about, things far too wonderful for me. 4You said, ‘Listen and I will speak! I have some questions for you, and you must answer them.’ 5I had only heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes. 6I take back everything I said, and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.” (Job 42:2-6) [i]
We have a hard time understanding our own suffering. So, how are we to understand the suffering of Jesus Christ our Savior?
Isaiah 53:10 tells us, “Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief…” (ESV)[ii]
We often speak about the suffering of Christ, and we remember His body that was broken for us. Surely, He suffered greatly. However, physically His suffering was such as is common to man. He suffered willingly in my place for my sins. Therefore, in that sense His physical suffering is different from all others. However, I want to draw your attention to the last half of Isaiah 53:10. The whole verse is:
Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. (ESV)
The King James Version says, “…thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin…” The New Living Translation says, “…Yet when his life is made an offering for sin…” The point here is that His soul, His person, His very life was the offering for our sins. His physical suffering is nothing compared to the suffering He went through in His soul. Luke 22:39-46 gives us an inkling, just a glimpse of the suffering of His soul.
Luke 22:39-46 says:
39Then, accompanied by the disciples, Jesus left the upstairs room and went as usual to the Mount of Olives. 40There he told them, “Pray that you will not give in to temptation.”
41He walked away, about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, 42“Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” 43Then an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him. 44He prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood.
45At last he stood up again and returned to the disciples, only to find them asleep, exhausted from grief. 46“Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation.”
This account takes place just after Jesus had celebrated the Passover meal with His disciples. Judas had left that meal to go and betray Jesus to the high priests and Jewish leaders. Although Jesus’ physical suffering had not started, this passage says, “…he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood.”
This agony of spirit was more than anticipation of physical suffering. Many of the martyrs faced physical torture and death with joy and songs. Hugh Latimer was burned at the stake with Nicholas Ridley on October 16, 1555. He is quoted as having said to Ridley:
Play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.[iii]
I do not believe that Jesus would show less courage than His followers would in facing death. However, I do believe that Jesus was facing a suffering like no one else has ever faced, not physical suffering, but an anguish of the soul.
No one else has borne the sins of the whole world. The Bible tells us, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21, ESV) We cannot begin to understand the suffering this involved. However, shame is one of the more painful emotions, comes as a result of sin, and is blamed by some as being the hidden root of most psychological problems.[iv]
There is another aspect of Jesus’ suffering that we will never fully understand- His broken relationship with the Father.
If a friend of a few days rejects us, we experience some level of pain, regret and/or anger. If a friend of a few years rejects us, we experience a correspondingly greater level of pain, regret and anger. If a parent or a spouse rejects us, we experience pain beyond almost any other pain in this life. This pain is emotional and psychological, an anguish of the soul.
Now think about Jesus. He said, “I and the Father are one.” (John 10:30, ESV) John 1:1-2 says, “1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God.” (ESV)
Jesus enjoyed an intimacy with the Father that goes beyond anything we know as humans. The only comparison we have is the unity between a husband and wife. What is more, this intimacy or oneness with the Father was from all eternity. It was the breaking of an eternal oneness. Therefore, the extent of anguish and suffering was correspondingly infinite. Consider what Jesus cried out on the cross. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46, ESV) In these words, we see a glimpse of the suffering of Jesus that goes beyond anything you or I will ever suffer.
The suffering of hell is just this, being forsaken by God and condemned by Him. Jesus took that punishment for us.
If you have never received Christ as your Savior, do so now. Flee from the terrible suffering of those forever forsaken by God. His invitation is for anyone who will come. Jesus suffered our punishment for us. Do not choose to pay for it yourself.
[i] Unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation. Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Steam, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
[ii] Scripture quotations marked ESV are from The ESV Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version) copyright 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.