Then, the ignominy of being heckled by his torturers, a purple robe being placed roughly over the torn and throbbing skin of his back and then, being cynically “crowned” as the King of the Jews with a crown of thorns, pressed deeply into the tender skin of his scalp and brow. Yet he endured it all for our sake. It did not lessen his pain, or his emotional suffering. That suffering would continue and it would soon get even worse. How would we have responded – with indignant rage, cowering in hopeless despair? Or maybe, just maybe, could we offer forgiveness, because we could see the fear, the doubt and the realization of guilt in their own eyes?
Jesus, the only truly innocent human being who ever lived, took the latter option, and – condemned to death as a criminal and blasphemer – endured. To make it even more unjust, unfair, and painful, he had to literally carry the cross on his own shoulders. What goes through the mind, over and above the pain of those beams digging into the already bruised and bloody flesh of his shoulders, hearing the jeering of the crowd, the taunting of your accusers. All the time knowing your innocence. And yet, he tells us, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
That is a clear invitation to each one of us, in faith, to enter into our suffering, to let go of our ego, to give our all for something greater than ourselves. Can we, in the midst of our suffering, our physical, or emotional suffering, give it up to God for a good that we might not even be able to see? Certainly, we cannot do this by the sheer force of willpower alone. But with faith in God’s love and with the aid of his generous grace, we can. We can, quite literally, lend our suffering to Jesus’ for the sake of the world. That is the very foundation of meaning.
Finally, the crucifixion itself: to be nailed to the cross, throat burning with thirst, the weight of all sin, the indescribable physical suffering, and the overwhelming psychological pain of endless taunting. And his response? “Father forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
There is the ultimate act of love. He knew that their sinful actions toward him were done out of fear and ignorance. How many times have we suffered at the hands of ignorant actors, who believed that they were in the right, or worse, those who could care less about being “right” but only about power? How did we respond? Did we try to get revenge? Did we accuse them of things that they did not do?
Or did we recognize that their actions were motivated by their ignorance and challenge them by forgiving them with a love and the respect that they did not offer us? And maybe, on occasion, did we find a new friend because we responded that way. The former responses are just as sinfully unfair and unjust as what our accusers did to us. The latter response is, once again,
only possible in one who has faith. And they are the only responses that have the potential of drawing others away from the darkness into the light. Now there is real meaning.
Someone once asked, “If God is almighty, why does he allow all this suffering? Why doesn’t he do something about it?” The only reasonable answer to those questions is:
“He did. He made you.”
It is in letting go of our egos and going outside of ourselves in loving service that gives meaning to suffering.SKM: below-content placeholder