I wrote a very long paper for Systematic Theology several years ago about my views on the cross and Jesus’ relationship to it. I’m not going in that direction here. That paper, while it did convey my beliefs, came from my head – my brain, a place of logic and rationale. This writing about the cross, while influenced by my mind, comes directly from my heart – my emotions, a place of pain and suffering. And, a place of love.
I can’t buy into the understanding that God causes our suffering or that God places us in specific situations to help us learn. If that’s the way God works, I’m out. I can’t believe in a god who causes suffering, who intentionally subjects us to heartache. So, I don’t. I don’t believe that about God. My studies and explorations don’t lead me to that god. My heart definitely doesn’t lead me that way either. Any god that wants to hurt me has no place in my life.
So then, God comes in the world through love. That doesn’t mean there aren’t natural consequences to our choices. If God doesn’t cause suffering, that also means God doesn’t prevent it. We have free will and that leads to good things and bad things. However, there are times in our lives when things happen that aren’t a result of a choice or action. Things just happen. Or to put it more bluntly, shit happens.
God is in and throughout everything – the good and the bad. God works for love in the world – through the good and the bad. God leads us toward a place of peace and love. God shepherds us, but like sheep – we don’t always follow.
If you believe in God or Creator or Universe or whatever, it’s easy to experience that Spirit when things are going well. We thank God for the beautiful weather or the good relationships. We thank God for the new job or the ability to pay the bills. It’s when things start to go in the other direction – when life is so hard and pain is unbearable – that we often wonder, ‘where is God in this?’ Although, if you do ask that question, then perhaps you’re moving in the same direction. To wonder about God, whether in good times or hard, is to recognize the possibility of God working in and through your life.
Last week I finished Nadia Bolz-Weber’s book Pastrix. She wrote about suffering in a few places, but one place in particular stood out to me:
I’m asked to find God in suffering. And every time I go looking for God amidst sorrow, I always find Jesus at the cross. In death and resurrection. This is our God. Not a distant judge or a sadist, but a God who weeps. A God who suffers, not only for us, but with us. Nowhere is the presence of God amidst the suffering more salient than on the cross. Therefore what can I do but confess that this is not a God who causes suffering. This is a God who bears suffering. I need to believe that God does not initiate suffering; God transforms it.
For the first time in my life, I truly understand what she’s saying. Jesus died because that was the final way to truly understand the human condition. Jesus embodied the Christ here on earth – an embodiment that brought the divine into the human being. Without death there would not be a complete embodiment of what it means to be human. Without suffering, Jesus could not relate.
So now, in suffering, God sits next to us, next to me. God shares our tears, my tears. God understands what it means to grieve. God knows suffering because God died on the cross. Not because we’re bad or evil. Not because without it we couldn’t have good lives. God died because without it God couldn’t completely relate to our human lives. God wanted to know, needed to know. On the cross, God knew. Because of the cross, God knows our pain, my pain.
Imagining God next to me, in my big writing chair, brings me comfort because I know God gets it. God didn’t cause this; God didn’t want this. But God will sit with me in the pain and God will direct me in a way that will, someday, lead me to resurrection. That’s an Easter I long for.