On Sunday I preached a sermon entitled “Does God Suffer?” and it’s probably the one I’ve found the hardest to write so it thought I’d share a little of it here:
Does God Suffer?
It’s a question, that, if I’m honest, makes my head hurt a little bit.
It’s been making my head hurt a little bit all week.
Part of me wants to think that God suffers because I want a God who knows how I feel when I’m in pain – I kind of want a God that can empathise with me in my darkest hour.
The problem with this is that a God who empathises isn’t enough. I have friends and family who can empathise with me when I’m going through a hard time – but I want a God who doesn’t just experience the darkness – He defeats it.
The idea that God can suffer in his divinity and not just in Jesus’ humanity is one that’s been around for a long time and it’s been a part of the conversation since the earliest days of Christianity as the Early Church tried to work out what they believed and why.
The classic answer developed by theologians like Cyril of Alexandria is that while it’s ok to say that the Son suffered on the cross, we make it clear that the God the Son suffered in his humanity, which is capable of suffering.
And the more I’ve thought about it this past week, the more comfort I’ve found from it.
Because if Jesus had suffered as God – He doesn’t know how we feel – He doesn’t know how finite humanity feels without the perspective of eternal glory.
But because Jesus suffered as a man He knows what its like when we suffer.
One of the reasons people, particularly in the last century have rejected the idea that God is impassible is because they reference the loving and active God we see throughout scripture.
And yet impassibility describes the doctrine that God does not experience pain or pleasure from the actions of another being.
Look at this definition – it’s not that God doesn’t feel emotion – it’s that God isn’t swayed by human emotion, by what we think and feel.
God is not passive in the face of our pain – in the face of the pain of a fallen world. He doesn’t view it as we might view the characters of EastEnders in their suffering, with a mild interest or disinterest – but with love.
Because the ultimate sign of God’s love for His people is that He sent Jesus, His Son to become man, to suffer as man for our sake.
God’s love is shown through Jesus’ humanity
The comfort is found in the mystery that Jesus was both Man and God – but that He suffered in man’s weakness.
Jesus did things as a man that its inconceivable for God to do.
God cannot be born, cannot die and yet…
Jesus was born as a baby, died as a man, suffered as a man.
And yet his heartbreak becomes part of the triune God.
There is no heartbreak we face that is greater than Jesus hanging on that cross crying
“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
The darkness of Jesus’ crucifixion could not quench the light and love of God.
We can’t experience love without a little suffering to go with it – because human love has an end in death – but God’s great love is eternal.
Our love often requires suffering; in the big things and the small.
It requires parents to give up their sleep for their children.
It requires cyclists wives to give up enjoyment to hear about cycling.
But God’s love is greater than that.
God’s love is perfect
And perfect love doesn’t require suffering – God’s love hinges nowhere but on His glorious character.
God’s love and light were not extinguished on the cross because God’s love and light are the very things that lifted the man Jesus from his grave.
So what does it all mean?
It means we have a God who loves us enough to send His Son to live, suffer and die as a human so that we can get closer to Him.
It means we have a God who is strong enough to not just carry our heaviest load – but beat it – as He beat death through Jesus’ resurrection.
It means that whatever we are facing – Jesus has faced the worst and conquered it for you.
And that gives me a lot of comfort.