When I think about what it might have felt like to be Jesus on the way to the cross and up on it, though of course only in part, it is so different than the way I think about suffering and righteousness and grace and sanctification. God’s order is always suffering then glory, flooding then re-creation, judgement then restoration. I don’t like training. I don’t like working the process to get to a desired result. I just want the end product. Even God had to go through the process of completing the full requirements of holiness and judgment on our behalf to bring about His new creation. All the hours standing in “court”, with people debating His merits and throwing out their accusations and condemnation of Him, must have felt long and hurtful and disappointing and emotionally heartbreaking and physically depleting. Then the physical abuse, which was cruel and unjust, would have pushed a sinful person like me to curse them back or burn internally while stuffing it. The nails through flesh, tendons and bones were in no possible way tolerable, or “fine”. The hours and hours of enduring this assault from all sides would break anyone down, and the weird silence and darkness of hanging up on that cross would be so unbearably isolating and alienating that mental illness would be my only remaining coping mechanism…just to shut it down altogether because I would have no framework or strength for processing any of that.
He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 1 Peter 2:22-24
I become like a cornered stray dog in the face of opposition, conflict and suffering of many kinds. I begin to snarl, chomp my teeth and am even willing to inflict pain on those around me in defense of my own life and well being. He committed no sin and did not revile in return, nor threaten because He knew He wasn’t a stray dog but a Beloved Son. He entrusted Himself to His Father. Only Jesus was totally righteous and without sin and His response to suffering was part of that proof.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. James 1:2-5
If wisdom is Jesus, the person and work of Jesus, then it is suffering which most clearly exposes how much I am still lacking of His transformation in me. It is also suffering which, like a map, helps to see how far I’ve come and where I am headed. Suffering eliminates any false notion I may have of independent righteousness or holiness even as it shows, like a blood test looking for iron levels, how much “iron” I need to add to my diet. These trials of many kinds aren’t designed to convince me I have outgrown my need for Jesus and the change that only He can effect but rather are the very salt that makes me realize how dehydrated I am and how desperately I need His Living water. These trials of many kinds are also what grow my faith as they press out my wrong notions about who God is and how He works, press out my wrong assumptions about who I am and why I exist, and replace them with the Truth, the Life and the Way. Christlikeness isn’t proven by how righteously I handle the assaults, disappointments and derailments in my days but is actually produced through them.
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 1 Peter 4:12-13
The thing is, I am surprised, and sadly, I think those around me are also, when fiery trials come because they rarely look “fiery” but are often more like stepping on toes…the yell omitted by the one whose toes were smushed makes no sense to the rest of the room whose eyes didn’t see the cause. And the yell often feels a little like overreacting because, come on, nothing was broken or really even bruised. I think this is why depression is hard to take or witness because it is the product of a deeper pressing, an interior stepping on toes, a hidden assault on the heart’s most honest affections and allegiances. (This is an oversimplification of a complex issue, but true as one aspect.) When my sinful response to difficult circumstances is evident to others, I feel like something strange is happening, and yet the Bible does not view it this way at all. The story of redemption tells me over and over that my sin is not strange but the very reason the Seed was promised at the beginning of the story and as the culmination of it, the beginning and end of my creation.
But what if I could trust His process more, be less surprised and see it as less strange when my sin is exposed, my lack of faith brought to the surface and my deep need for Jesus actually revealed? What if I could fail to be complete, perfect and lacking nothing (Jesus) and not be condemned by that reality but be hopeful that even as my need is made evident to all, so will His glory be revealed at the end of this process? What if rather than defeated, my failure could actually force my roots deeper into Him to be hydrated by His Living Water? What if, like Jesus, I could sit through hours and hours of assaults and accusations, believing that through His death (and mine), eternal, righteous, free and complete life will be found? Oh might I rejoice, not as one in denial of the pain, drudgery or loss nor shocked or defeated by my sinful responses, but because this too is producing life, even through death. Where I lack Jesus, I may ask for more of Him in me, and God will give generously without finding fault. He is just…and the One who justifies. Love so amazing, so divine, demands my heart, my life, my all.