a working theology of suffering, part 1

“From all that dims Thy Calvary, o Lamb of God deliver me.”–Amy Carmichael

It’s scrawled on the flyleaf of my Bible, an earnest-for-the-most-part prayer that tends to be answered in ways neither anticipated nor often appreciated.

Turns out, Calvary was ugly as sin. . .was sin, embodied in those agonizing hours of sheer hopelessness as the God-man became the absolute manifestation of sin and shame in the world, as Satan howled with glee at an easy victory. . .

Last week, as I read the crucifixion story it was as if I were right there, as though I could hear Jesus’ shrieks of agony as spikes tore into his soft flesh. When I came to his 9th hour cry, I stopped short.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

As I read that line in Matthew, the gut-ripping scream of abandonment echoing in my mind, I thought for a split second that I could relate. Oh yeah, Jesus. I get that. I felt forsaken for two years.

But our experiences are totally different.

Because though I’ve felt abandoned, I know God has promised he will never leave nor forsake me. I may not always feel or trust it, but I can appropriate that promise whenever I choose.

Jesus actually was abandoned by God. That shout wasn’t for appearances; it was anguish clothed in words. While I at least know that God is behind the scenes of my life, however little I may like the screenplay he’s directing, Jesus knew that God’s back was turned.

At the cross, unsullied purity collided with filth. Perfect holiness met condemning shame. And the relationship within the triune God that begot the universe was shattered. The God of love turned away from the only person worthy of it, and the very earth protested the dissolution of the relationship that sustained it.

No, Calvary was not the neat-and-tidy-with-slightly-depressing-undertones scenario so often depicted in art form. It was apparently everything bad in the world; sin, shame, guilt, fear joining forces in the most intense showdown of the universe.

And for a moment, they won.

For a mercifully short time, Satan appeared to have officially co-opted the role he’d coveted for so long.

And then Jesus rose from the grave and humanity was offered a free-but-costly chance to trust in and be saved by the only One who could overcome the destroyer of all good, and those who so chose were granted everything they needed for life and godliness. . .but not necessarily for happiness.

When I’m honest, I have to admit that in daily life I try to dim Calvary from my perspective, because Calvary squelches my ‘right’ to protest when life doesn’t go my way, when God seems distant, when I can’t find a point or immediate end to my pain and God starts to look sadistic.

When I allow the message of Calvary to come into sharp relief against the background of my own pain, no response but gratitude and trust is appropriate.

I so often don’t want to be grateful on any terms but my own. When my life isn’t ‘working’ I want to sulk, to protest, to either pout my way to a shift in circumstances or show God that while he can run my life by virtue of being bigger and stronger than I, he has to earn my soul via quick fixes and happy endings.

He puts a greater value on my life than I do. The soul he gave his son for, I would pawn for a mere lifetime of happiness.

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