As I bow my head to pray these days, I find myself praying for more and more people who are suffering. I pray for their healing and comfort, and for their families to endure. And, as I find myself adding to this list seemingly every day, and with it being the Easter season, I have come across one of the prophecies from Isaiah that has been sticking with me. That is the prophecy of a “suffering servant.”
“Through his suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear … And he shall take away the sins of many, and win pardon for their offense.” (Isaiah 53:11, 12)
I will admit that I am far from an expert on scripture or a top scholar on this subject, but still, it is something that I think strikes all of us when we stop to ponder it.
And why? Why did God have to accomplish his work through the suffering (and eventual death) of His servant? Assuredly he could have accomplished His salvific work any way He pleased, and yet, the prophecy that the Holy Spirit gave to Isaiah that was fulfilled in Jesus was that God’s servant, “through his suffering” would “justify many” and “win pardon for their offense.”
While reason and study to try to comprehend or scratch some small surface of God’s rationale in this truth is a worthy pursuit, I am not prideful enough to posit God’s reasons why. Instead, I approach it only as I can, in my humanity. Just as we may ask, “why did Jesus suffer?” I am sure many, if not all of us, have made the question a bit more personal.
Why must I suffer? Or my friend? Or my family? My loved one? My mother? My father? My spouse? My child?
These are heartbreaking questions that twang the chords of grief on our hearts just at their mention. There is no denying that they are universal questions, and as far as explanations go, I am not sure I have come across a truly sufficient one that we mere humans can fully accept.
But, Jesus suffered.
It is not that I want Jesus to suffer; the opposite is true! I know that it is in my sin that He suffers, and in a way, that can make the pain of sin smart just that much more. Rather, something about pondering the suffering of Jesus, for some reason, makes my heart swell. Something about knowing that He suffered, knowing that He did not have to, knowing that in the Garden of Gethsemane He demonstrated His choice and ability to deny His suffering, and yet He chose it. All this somehow gives suffering meaning, even if I am too feeble-minded to know what that purpose is.
Moreover, Jesus did not suffer for His own purposes, He suffered for me. And, of course, He suffered for you. He suffered for all of us. And, it occurs to me that when we suffer, we don’t suffer alone. We know Jesus holds us in our arms and suffers right along with us. But, moreover, our suffering is rarely, if ever, solitary. Our suffering is so often for, or worse caused by, another. Even the simplest suffering, that of being tired at the end of a long week and mustering the energy to cook a meal for our sometimes less than grateful family (sorry, living with three boys under six years old makes me a weekly witness to this scenario), is a form of suffering for others’ sakes, and to some extent, by others.
So was Jesus’s suffering. His suffering was for us, and it was caused by us, both in our sin and also as the direct result of sinners calling for his execution. Suffering ties us together, both in cause and effect and also in shared experience. And, God wanted to be with us, to help us, to love us so dearly, that He was even willing to join us in our suffering.
Perhaps, that is the point. There is nothing that God does not want to share with us. He loves us even in our worst moments. He dies for us even when we are so undeserving we would yell, “Crucify Him!” He comes to us even in our worst places, especially in the worst places. He is a God that is both universal and intimate. He is beyond human capacity for knowledge and He makes Himself known to us. He is the author and holder of life, and He suffered and died for us so that we would live and all the suffering and tragedy of this world would one day all make sense. It would one day all be redeemed.
If you are suffering today, take comfort and hope in the promise of redemption and eternal life in Jesus.