Walking with God through Pain & Suffering
by Tim Keller
Chapter 7: The Suffering of God
- Christianity is unique in teaching that God is sovereign over suffering and also made himself vulnerable and subject to suffering.
- Holding both the sovereignty of God and the suffering of God together is crucial to a Christian understanding of suffering.
- We see glimpses of God’s suffering in OT:
- God’s love and compassion for Israel.
- God’s grief over human sin and evil.
- God’s deep love for his people means that our condition affects his heart.
- We need to hold and maintain two biblical truths:
- The living God is a self-maintaining, self-sufficient reality that does not need to draw vitality from outside. God does not need us.
- God experiences emotions, such as joy, pleasure, pain, and grief.
- Heart involvement leads to suffering. The more you love someone, the more that person’s grief and pain become yours.
- God is not an abstract deity, but a person who experiences emotion and suffering.
The Suffering of God the Son
- The suffering of God comes into clearest focus in the Son of God, Jesus Christ.
- Jesus experiences the ordinary pressures, difficulties, and pains of normal human life.
- Jesus experienced the ultimate suffering in his Passion, his betrayal, trial, torture, and death on the cross, when he bore the wrath of God for our sins and was forsaken by his Father.
- God took into his own self, his own heart, an infinite agony—out of love for us.
- The NT speaks of Christ continuing to suffer in the persecution of his people (Acts 9:4).
- Jesus so identifies with his people that he shares in their sufferings.
- The NT also speaks of Christians sharing in Christ’s sufferings (1 Pet 4:13; Phil 3:10).
- Our sufferings do not add anything to the suffering of Christ, his atoning work for our salvation.
- Because we are in union with Christ, we “fellowship” with Christ in our suffering.
- Christ learned humanhood from his suffering. We learn Christhood from our suffering.
- Just as Jesus assumed human likeness through suffering, so we can grow into Christ’s likeness through suffering, if we face it with faith and patience.
The Suffering Sovereign
- These two complementary (not contradictory) truths must be held together:
- God is capable of emotions and suffering.
- And, God is completely sovereign over suffering.
- The God who has no causal relationship to suffering is no God at all, certainly not the God of the Bible…who is both suffering and sovereign. Both beliefs are necessary to the Christian assertion that suffering has some meaning.
- If God is out of control of history, then suffering is not part of any plan; it is random and senseless.
- On the other hand, if God has not suffered, then how can we trust him?
- It is because God is all-powerful and sovereign that his suffering is so astonishing. If God were somehow limited or out of control, his suffering would not be so radically voluntary—and therefore not so fully motivated by love.
- If even God has suffered, then we cannot say that he does not understand, or that his sovereignty over suffering is being exercised in a cruel and unfeeling
- Since he has not kept himself immune from our pain, we can trust him.
- Because suffering is both just and unjust, we can cry out and pour out our grief, but without the toxic bitterness.
- Because God is both sovereign and suffering, we know our suffering always has meaning even though we cannot see
The Final Defeat of Evil
- The Bible teaches us to look forward to a final judgment as the decisive answer of God to all such questions, as the solution of all such problems, and as the removal of all the apparent discrepancies of the present.
- In our world of justice, we only have the capability of punishing evil, but we do not have the power to undo
- God has the power to undo it.
- The Bible promises more than just Judgment Day.
- Judgment Day is accompanied by the coming of Jesus Christ, the resurrection of the dead, and the renewal of heaven and earth.
- The death of Jesus not only secured our salvation; it assured the restoration of all things at the end of time.
- The cross of Christ was the worst human evil in the history of the world; it was the worst that human and non-human evil against God could do.
- Yet, in God’s plan the worst evil ever committed accomplished the ultimate victory over evil.
- The very moment Jesus was dying on the cross, he was “disarming the powers…triumphing over them by his cross” (Col 2:15).
- It is a wounded and resurrected lamb who is able not only to judge wrongdoing but actually to undo the damage that evil has wreaked on creation.
- Without the suffering of Jesus, evil wins.
- It is only Jesus’ suffering that makes it possible to end suffering—to judge and renew the world—without having to destroy us.
- At the cross, evil is turned back on itself.
- Calvin: “On the cross, destruction was destroyed, torment tormented, damnation damned…death dead, mortality made immortal.”
- Christ’s suffering on the cross humbles We have no other position than at the foot of the cross. There we find the wisdom to reject optimistic theodicies and tragic philosophies. God’s answer to suffering is evil turned back on itself at the cross.
- While Christianity never claims to be able to offer a full explanation of all God’s reasons behind every instance of evil and suffering—it does have a final answer to it. The answer will be given at the end of history.
No More Tears
- The cross secured the defeat of evil in the past, on Calvary, but now it also guarantees a final experience of that defeat in the future in the renewal of all things, when every tear will be wiped away
- The suffering of Jesus has ended
- The Bible teaches that the future is not an immaterial “paradise” but a new heaven and a new earth.
- The Christian hope is unlike any other religion or philosophy.
- Christianity offers not merely a consolation but a restoration—not just of the life we had but of the life we always wanted but never achieved. And because the joy will be even greater for all that evil, this means the final defeat of all those forces that would have destroyed the purpose of God in creation, namely, to live with his people in glory and delight