Subject: Why Christianity is true: The Suffering of Jesus Christ (#EmmaandJordanLive)
1Peter 3:18 “Christ suffered once for our sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God…”
I have several close friends who have lost loved ones. They have shared their daily struggles over the pain of losing someone who has always been an intimate part of their lives. We could try and give some sort of philosophical explanation for why God allows us to experience this kind of intense suffering, but that wouldn’t speak to them as a mother (or father, or husband, or wife, or boyfriend or girlfriend).
Suffering is something most of us would agree is very real and personal, and rarely is anyone exempt from it. The difference comes in how each of us deals with it. I knew a person who claimed to follow Buddhism, where the source of one’s suffering is their desire. So if one can eliminate all earthly desires, one could reach a place of perfect peace and happiness, known as enlightenment or ‘nirvana’. At this place one would eliminate any suffering in one’s life. The goal in practicing Buddhism then is complete detachment from earthly pursuits, and an ‘enlightened’ understanding that the suffering you are experiencing is illusory. Buddha himself, when his son was born, abandoned his wife and newborn child because he saw them as obstacles to his pursuit of enlightenment. So he detached from the earthly desire of his family.
I have an atheist friend who claims to be a nihilist, which rejects all religious and moral principles in favor of a belief that life is meaningless. He is a big fan of Friedrich Nietzche, the atheist philosopher who famously declared “God is dead”. Nietzche believed that our very existence (our actions, our feelings, our suffering) has no meaning. The concept of meaning is boiled down to one’s own self-interests, pleasures or tastes.
Dr. Vince Vitale, former Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Princeton University and today a member of the teaching faculty of Theology and Religion at the University of Oxford, greatly helps us to grapple with the reality of suffering in his article ‘If God, Why Suffering?’ as he explains why both Nietzche and Buddha were wrong and how Jesus Christ gives us the answer: “In his essay “The Birth of Tragedy”, atheist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote: ‘The gods justified human life by living it themselves—the only satisfactory response to the problem of suffering ever invented.’ Nietzsche is actually writing of the ancient Greeks here, and in his bias he doesn’t make the connection to Christianity. But as a Christian, I am very pleased to agree with him and then point emphatically to the cross where Jesus died.
The night before his death, as Jesus wrestled with what He knew the next day would bring, Jesus said to his friends, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow, to the point of death’ (Matthew 26:38). Think about it. The God of the Universe, the Creator of all things, saying He is overwhelmed with sorrow, even to death….
If you’ve ever experienced deep depression or thought about dying, Jesus is right there with you. There is no depth of agony and helplessness we can experience in this life that He doesn’t understand. At the Cross, we see the absolute uniqueness of the Christian response to suffering. In Islam, the idea of God suffering is nonsense—it is thought to make God weak. In Buddhism, to reach divinity is precisely to move beyond the possibility of suffering. Only in Christ do we have a God who is loving enough to suffer with us.
The loving parent is not the one who never allows suffering in a child’s life. The loving parent is the one who is willing to suffer alongside their children. And in Christianity this is exactly what we find.”
In our verse this week, the apostle Peter explains that it was Jesus Christ’s voluntary suffering for our sakes that provided the payment due for our sins and the way to know God personally. The word for ‘suffered’ Peter uses means ‘personally experienced pain or distress inflicted upon Him by others’. And the phrase ‘to bring us to God’ means ‘to lead us as a shepherd to God the Father’. No other worldview provides such a clear answer for how to deal with the reality of suffering as the Cross of Jesus Christ.
Dr. Peter Kreeft, Professor of Philosophy at Boston College, elaborates: “The Christian God came to earth to deliberately put Himself on the hook of human suffering. In Jesus Christ, God experienced the greatest depths of pain. Therefore, Christianity provides deep resources for actually facing suffering with hope and courage rather than bitterness and despair.”
When we look at the Cross of Jesus, we may struggle with the answer for why God allows us to suffer. But we know what the answer isn’t. It isn’t because He doesn’t love us, or that He is indifferent or detached from our suffering. God takes our suffering so seriously that He willingly took it on Himself.