Because God Suffered

We live in a day of suffering. A simply survey of news headlines verifies the fact. In times of suffering, grieving people often pose a challenge to any minister within earshot: “Why did God allow this evil to happen?” To answer that question, pastors sometimes offer a theodicy (i.e., a response that justifies belief in an all-loving and all-powerful God in spite of sin and evil). Such answers are seldom satisfying to the person whose heart is aching.

Although the existence and extent of evil is a profound mystery, the message of Christianity shines through even in darkness. According to the Bible, not even God exempted Himself from the agony of human suffering. The second Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, God of very God, experienced a gruesome encounter with pain and agony on the cross.

This very truth struck Rev. Edward Shillito, as he watched wave after wave of wounded young men return from the First World War. How could Christianity still be “good news” to those who had seen the slaughter of brutal trench warfare in the European theatre of battle? Shillito, a Free Church minister in England, saw a partial reply in the following teaching: among all the world religions, only Christianity portrays a God suffering as a man. The following poem, Jesus of the Scars, was his attempt to explain this clearly comforting truth in a world wracked by war, death, injustice, and natural disasters:

If we have never sought, we seek Thee now;
Thine eyes burn through the dark, our only stars;
We must have sight of thorn-pricks on Thy brow;
We must have Thee, O Jesus of the Scars.

The heavens frighten us; they are too calm;
In all the universe we have no place.
Our wounds are hurting us; where is the balm?
Lord Jesus, by Thy Scars, we claim Thy grace.

If, when the doors are shut, Thou drawest near,
Only reveal those hands, that side of Thine;
We know to-day what wounds are, have no fear,
Show us Thy Scars, we know the countersign.

The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak;
They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God’s wounds speak;
And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.1

Footnotes:

1 Edward Shillito, “Jesus of the Scars”; as cited in D. A. Carson, How Long, O Lord? (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1990), 191.

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