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God’s Solidarity with Suffering

Friday, January 22, 2016

Incarnation: Week 2

God’s Solidarity with Suffering
Friday, January 22, 2016

While resurrection is where incarnation leads, there is one caveat, and it’s a big one: transformation and “crucifixion” must intervene between life and Life. Some form of loss, metamorphosis, or transformation always precedes any rejuvenation. We see this throughout the entire physical and biological universe. Nothing remains the same. This is where we all fumble, falter, and fight. The small ego-self hates all change. So someone needs to personally lead the way, model the path, and say this is a good and “necessary suffering.” Otherwise we will not trust this counterintuitive path. For Christians, this model, pioneer, and exemplar is Jesus (Hebrews 12:2). [1]

I’ve often said that the Book of Job is the summit of the Hebrew Scriptures, but it’s also the dead end, because there’s no answer for how to deal with unjust suffering except surrender. Jesus, the new Job, experienced the worst suffering humanity could inflict: betrayal, unfair judgment, rejection, abandonment, torture, humiliation, and crucifixion. For Christians, Jesus therefore became the answer to Job. The problem of suffering, even unjust suffering, is resolved in Jesus’ body on the cross. The One who became incarnate took on our suffering flesh, and took it to the nth degree. As Paul writes, “Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness, and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8).

Many of the happiest and most peaceful people I know love a God who walks with crucified people and thus reveals and “redeems” their plight as God’s own. For them, Jesus is not observing human suffering from a distance but is somehow in human suffering with us and for us. He includes our suffering in the co-redemption of the world, as “all creation groans in one great act of giving birth” (Romans 8:22). Is this possible? Could it be true that we “make up in our bodies all that still has to be undergone for the sake of the Whole Body” (Colossians 1:24)? Are we somehow partners with the divine? Of course we are! In fact, I think that is the whole point. [2]

Is this the way that we matter? Is this the price of our inclusion inside of the Great Mystery that God has lived first and foremost? Is God truly and forever a Great Outpouring, as the Trinitarian pattern seems to say? When I see animals and plants and even the stars die so willingly and offer their bodies for another generation, another species, or the illumination of the universe, I begin to see the one pattern everywhere. It is the truest level of love, as each and every thing offers itself for another. Would any of us even learn to love at all if it was not demanded of us, taken from us, and called forth by human tears and earthly tragedy? Is suffering necessary to teach us how to love and care for one another? I really believe it is—by pure observation. [3] Maybe this is why Jesus said, “Follow me” (John 1:43) and “Love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:12-13).

Jesus takes on our suffering, bears it, and moves through it to resurrection, which is called “the paschal mystery.” We too can follow this path, actively joining God’s loving solidarity with all the suffering since the foundation of the world. Jesus does not ask us to worship him. He asks us to follow him by trusting and allowing this entire, scary, and infinitely rewarding journey. [4]

Gateway to Silence:
God in me sees God who is also beyond me.

[1] Adapted from Richard Rohr, Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self (Jossey-Bass: 2013), 88.

[2] Adapted from Richard Rohr, Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps (Franciscan Media: 2011), 122.

[3] Ibid., 122-123.

[4] Rohr, Immortal Diamond, 79.

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