“My God, My God, Why have you forsaken Me?”, Jesus cried in his final moments on the cross. Although beyond our mind’s comprehension, it was not the physical suffering our Christ was lamenting. To be certain, he suffered greatly but that was nothing in comparison to the moment his Father had to turn away from him. It was the moment that Christ bore all past, present, and future sins of humanity…alone. The absolute agony of being separated from God is unbearable, soul-devouring, spirit crushing, horror.
He begged his Father three times (Mark 14:36) to take this burden from him telling his friends to keep watch as he prayed saying, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death, “ (Mark 14:34). He wasn’t distressed about the physical trial to come even though he knew it would be brutal beyond compare. No, it was his spiritual separation from the Father that filled him with revulsion and terror. He chose to obey, he chose to suffer, he chose to become separated from his Father. Why would he do this? He did this for you.
You may argue that he was fully God and could endure much more suffering than a human ever could. You may argue that he only suffered for three hours on the cross and you have suffered all your life with this or that. You may argue that he could have stopped it all and destroyed evil then and there. Your arguments are permissible, but not valid, because as you just read, Christ asked his Father the soul wrenching-question that can be so destructive, WHY. Doubt is not a sin, it is an expectation just as is the drive to find the answers. God tells us to seek him, pursue him, love him with all our heart, mind and soul. Why would we have to pursue a God we believe in? Isn’t that an endeavor for the unbeliever? Oh no, not at all. Once you believe you have a Father who created you for a purpose and who sent his son to pay for your sins then that is when the pursuit of our Creator truly begins.
As unbelievers, we are in stark rebellion just floundering like a fish out of water but once we chose to follow Christ then that is when the journey becomes difficult. Hence, it is not a sin to ask our Father why something has happened or is happening. Understand, you may never get an answer to your specific question until you breathe your last but if you pursue the answer then you will learn much along the way depending upon who you allow to steer your rudder. If you allow Satan to embitter you then your search will end in depression, self-loathing, self-pity, rage and a flaccid faith. You will get stuck at that moment of suffering neither going forward nor backward. If you allow Christ to lead you then you will likely still experience all these things but you will not get stuck in that place because he gives us the strength to move beyond the pain and suffering of the current life crisis. Just an added thought I cannot let hang open, Christ was also fully human too so he experienced everything throughout his life just as we would have.
Strength and Suffering
Do you consider yourself a person of great strength? What do you consider to be strength? Are you physically fit and strong? Are you financially strong and secure? Do you have a strong moral code or belief system? Do you have a strong intellect? How about a strong faith? We humans measure and define strength using variable measuring sticks according to what we value in life; therefore, your answer may be far different than another’s. Nevertheless, how you define strength becomes very important when you are faced with losing it. I argue that you cannot lose your strength entirely if you allow it to transform into another and likely more durable manifestation of our surrendered weakness. If you consider yourself a to be a weak, helpless person then that is another issue, or set of issues, entirely that must be saved for another day. This writing is about the burden of strength and the blessing that can be experienced within it.
Burden of strength? How could strength be a burden? Most consider being strong a great asset but there are different aspects and perceptions of strength that can become a stumbling block or an unsung badge of survival. When you meet a person of great emotional and more so, spiritual strength then you are also meeting a person who has endured great and overwhelming suffering. Those people are the closest to understanding how Christ felt when he uttered his words of agony, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” It is that moment of Christ’s agony, which none can offer comparison is where the remainder of this writing will focus.
Physical, financial, social and intellectual strengths are all illusions of strength because they are insecure. All of them can be lost suddenly or through a lifelong deterioration and each of them can serve as a major stumbling block to our relationship with others and with God. Christ warned against relying upon our own strength when he said that it was “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mark 10:25). Many point this verse in scripture to condemn the wealthy but Christ was talking about anyone who depends upon their own strength to traverse life because they think it is their own skills, talents or attributes that have gained all they have in life. These types of folks never acknowledge that it was and is God who has supplied them with those gifts that they have used to exploit their time on this planet. Some give lip service to God but when a crisis hits or when their strength begins to ebb then that is where their convictions are truly revealed. Now, everyone is going to endure a grieving period when their strength is lessening because it challenges their core beliefs, who they thought they were, where they thought their life was heading, what they thought God’s plan for their life was going to be. The common denominator here, our thoughts, our perceptions, our ability to reason things out and that is where we stumble.
Encountering people of faith and those who reject God as they struggle in this life reveals many things. Admitting weakness is almost insufferable to both populations. We do not like to appear weak or concede that we cannot handle or deal with anything that is thrown at us. The largest obstacle to anyone walking this planet is not their upbringing, their poverty/wealth level, their intellectual capability, their lack of opportunity, or their health status. What then?
You are your biggest obstacle. ‘But…but…but I have played by all the rules, I have done everything I was supposed to, I am a good person so how could I be my own biggest obstacle?’, you might query. You trust in yourself, which is akin to trusting the strength of a water balloon constructed of tissue paper. There is a big difference between being confident in the gifts and talents God has woven into your being and relying upon them as if they were your gods. Nothing you have and nothing you can do is sustainable by your own efforts including your very next breath. This is highly evidenced in multiple instances of situational irony played out in the real world like the health fanatic who believes he/she is doing great then suddenly drops over of a heart attack while a man who has drank and smoked heavily is still living strong at 92. Neither person in this example is being put forth as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, only examples in real life judged by human criteria of “living good” and “living hard”. You are not in control of tomorrow regardless of your physical, financial, intellectual, or spiritual ability.
So does that mean we just throw our hands up and say,” chaos rules,” and we are not able to control anything? Of course not, God is a God of order and purpose but he is also the person who gave us Free Will. Our choices are often the road that brings suffering to our lives but not always. However, our own sin nature is not the only force we have against us but it is the one that invites the destructive forces in. Satan is very real and very active in creation. His rage and jealousy against humanity is documented in scripture as is his desire to destroy God’s beloved children. Therefore, when Christ told his apostles to expect hardship, pain and suffering he was trying to support the men who he called friend and brother as he knew what they would face on account of him. Be assured, anyone who chooses to follow Christ is going to suffer because we are fighting our own sinful nature atop the world that revels in sin and Satan. The odds are not in our favor and it is an impossible task unless we admit our weakness, our lack of strength, our inability to be victorious if we depend on our own skills, talents, gifts (strength) alone. It is not achievable unless you give it all to Christ and allow the Holy Spirit to work through you. Allow Him to use your pain, tears, heartache, confusion, righteous anger and weakness to lead you and others toward a closer relationship with Him.
Our human mind rebels against this idea and we fight it, actively fight it because we believe if we surrender whatever is causing us misery then we will be weak. However, the longer we hold onto something we were not meant to carry alone in the first place then the more suffering we will endure. Not that God is causing it or “turning up the fire” but because we are trying to solve our problem with a small percentage of the full picture. When we try to stand alone, we are at our weakest and we will fail. Yet, what few recognize or understand is that our choices directly or indirectly affect all whom we love. Some of the connections are blatantly obvious but others are masked by the perception of strength. Here are a couple of examples to illustrate this concept.
Sofia, a single mom of two, is holding everything together. She has a job, is going to school, raising her children in the Lord and doing her best to provide for all their needs. She is perceived by the world as being a strong woman, a functional citizen and a good mom. However, Sofia is barely holding on emotionally, spiritually, financially, and even physically. She refuses to let anyone help, she would never ask for help and she is very private about her feelings. She will not shed tears in front of her kids or anyone else for that matter because she does not want anyone to think she is weak or cannot take care of her kids. She feels to do so would invite criticism of her ability to parent. Yet, she feels as if she is being eaten from the inside out. She has a luke warm relationship with Christ. She is devoted to teaching her children about Christ and makes certain they all attend church every Sunday but she feels dead inside. Her fears of criticism are valid but her healing will not begin until she surrenders her pain to Christ. He knows exactly what she is going through and He never intended for her to traverse her journey alone. Satan continues to whisper her worthlessness in her ear and the feeling that the world and, more specifically, her children would be better off if she were dead.
But it is not that easy, you say. People cannot be trusted . People are going to hurt you. You are going to be betrayed, used, rejected. Yes…yes, these things will happen to you and each time you are hurt you will need to make a choice, several choices actually. Some will bring you closer to understanding, healing and to God; others will pull you toward the Prince of deceit and you will become his tool. Understand this firmly, God is NOT the one doing the moving in this equation. God does not vacillate, for He is our rock and anchor.
Ted is entering his 40’s and has enjoyed great health, physical and intellectual strength throughout his career and personal life. His spiritual life centers upon what he was brought up with in the Christian faith; therefore, he considers himself a ‘good’ Christian. He feels he is a strong Christian and tends to criticize those who “whine” about their lives. One day Ted wakes up a little more achy than is usual after a prior day of hard work. As we humans often do, he brushes it off and continues on his way. Then a pattern begins to emerge causing him to begin to think something might be wrong so he over rules his own objections and goes to the doctor. As you can guess, the doctors inform him that he has developed a chronic ailment that is going to cause pain and deterioration for the remainder of his life. Ahhh, but this is only the beginning of Ted’s nightmare because other related health issues begin to rear their ugly heads spiraling Ted into deep depression, anger, frustration, and serious faith wavering. He has always been the provider, he has always been the one others look toward for help, he has always counted on his own strength and wits to solve any problem he encountered. The disease is stealing his strength, destroying his strong body, robbing him of his independent lifestyle and clouding his thoughts. Worst of all, his fragile faith must now bear a full onslaught of fear, doubt, confusion and anger. Earlier in his life, as he was building his career and family he had no motivation to pursue God, wholeheartedly, because he had everything well in hand. His relationship with his Creator and others was guarded at best as he could never relinquish the control of his life by realizing he was not strong enough to endure the suffering alone. Yet, this is truly the first time suffering on the deep core level had ever been experienced. It’s not the physical pain, as that was just the match, it is the soul-wrenching pain of loss.
Here is a another kicker for you, his mindset, weak faith and self-perception is not entirely his fault. In American society, we put unrealistic goals upon our men and women. Somehow we have come to believe that every man must be a hero and every woman must be ‘mother of the year’ with the added feminist demands of being “more”. We cannot attain that status and God knows this; however, he is always there waiting to catch us when we finally understand that we can do nothing without him. Does understanding this truth make the suffering easier? Eh, not right away but eventually it brings even deeper understanding and focus to the purpose your life experiences have prepared you to fulfill.
What about the kid with cancer, the one who gets raped and killed by a psychopath or parent? What about all the disease, famine, warfare, and natural disasters? Are you going to look into a father’s eyes as he holds his dying child and try to explain that sin has caused the poisoning of creation so everything, even our cells have been tainted by its affects giving reason for his child’s cancer? Of course not, you are going to be silent but present. Allow God to do the talking as only he can, for words mean nothing in moments like that because the suffering is so profound, unjust, unthinkable, and soul crushing.
That holds true when anyone is suffering because to the one who is doing the suffering your platitudes of “everything is going to be alright.”, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, God never gives us more than we can handle,” etcetera are like hot daggers being thrust into their hearts and souls. Let God work, admit your weakness, confess that you have no idea why their suffering is occurring ( if there is no apparent reason such as lung cancer following years of smoking). Even if the reason for their suffering is blatantly obvious, YOU ARE NOT THEIR JUDGE. They are likely well on their way to meeting their judge and then explaining to their creator why they chose to destroy the body He created for them so they do not need you to start harping on them ahead of time.
We all make life choices that will bring betterment or hardship to our existence so we have no room to judge another. On that same token, those who make life choices that create health, financial, social, emotional, psychological problems bringing pain, suffering, and loss have to refrain from blaming God and start taking responsibility for their own actions. God is a god of second chances, unending second chances so there is a future beyond the one you planned IF you allow it to be brought to fruition.
Do NOT depend upon humanity’s interpretation of who God is and what God’s plans are for your life. Pursue Him with every fiber of your being and I promise that what you find will bring change to your life. Change can be painful but it is very necessary for anything to become what it was borne to become. If you are a strong person then you know that the journey is painful, suffering is your bedfellow, for without these faith is hollow. Having a strong faith in Christ is the most difficult thing to earn because it is earned through tears and sorrow. Trusting God when all is well is easy and empty but trusting him as you are sending your child through the operating doors or sitting him in the car of an abusive parent due to a court order is faith and acute and unimaginable suffering. Standing over a loved one’s grave with a pain that is tearing you apart but trusting that God will bring you through it is faith. Picking one of two devils to be President of the United States and believing God’s plans will come to fruition is faith.
Faith is not a noun but a verb. Faith is a breathing entity that must be fed, must be worked, must be tested because it is a powerful tool to the one who is strong enough to wield it. Christ is our teacher, he is the only one who can show us how we are to approach suffering and not only survive it but how to become something better on the other side. We can fight only what we can see but there is a battle of epic proportions going on all around us and we contribute to the evil or to the good every moment of everyday. Hence, you must examine your own life and decide if your suffering can support the claim that God has forsaken you (He will never leave you nor forsake you [Deut. 31;8]) or that you could equate your suffering to Job (which none of us know enough about to even offer an inkling into what was going on there, for there are too many missing pieces to the story) or justify anger towards God (even though he can take whatever we can dish out).
If you have been following my blog from its inception then you know these words of mine are not empty. I am not boasting when I say I am a woman of great faith in Christ, because I do not consider it a badge of honor but rather a sign of great suffering. I do possess a strong faith and for that I am grateful and humbled knowing he grasped me ever more tightly each time I let go. Without Christ, without understanding the epitome of suffering that is to be separated from God for the merest of moments is to only be brushed by the backside of suffering’s fury and left with the deluge of pain. In my arrogant youth, I used to use “Eloi, Eloi Lema Sabachthani?” as my mantra feeding my rage and hopelessness but I did not truly understand the depth of their meaning until I came to the point in my life where I thought God had turned his back on me. That is the moment of zero hope and utter, desperate agony when I decided I did not want to live any longer. I only thought God had abandoned me and the pain was more than I could bear; therefore, imagine our Savior’s agony when he bore this reality for you and me. My previous posts expound upon these topics further so I will not reiterate them here.
You cannot look through the lens of human understanding to form your idea of God’s thoughts, ways, and love. How could a finite being such as you and I possibly presume we could understand the infinite. You are so important to your Creator, he loves you beyond any type of human love that can be experienced. However, love is not always kisses and cuddles and your Father in heaven knows what he has created you to be and he will push you toward completion of that goal. He does this not for his sake but for your sake. His plans are to prosper you as he clearly says in Jeremiah 29:11, yet he still provides you the choice. Are you forsaken? Can you boast about your strength in weakness? Can you wear Christ’s crown? Can you carry Christ’s cross?
My love and prayers go out to all my readers. May you each feel the depth of love Christ brought to us in that tiny manger so very long ago.