“The Lord saw the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they though or imagined was consistently and totally evil. So, the Lord was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart.” Genesis 6 (emphasis added).
There’s a saying that you’re only really as happy in any given moment as your least happy child. I think that saying resonates even more with me now that I have adult children. Recently, my wife and I walked through a significant job change with one of my girls. While not necessarily grievous or tragic, my wife and I walked through every moment of the turmoil and disruption it caused my daughter. As I write this now, we’re still walking through it. As any parent will understand, we not only walked through it; we felt it. It hurt us emotionally to see our child struggle, and we experienced deep-rooted joy as we watched her draw closer to her Abba God through it.
When you actually ponder the Genesis passage above, especially through the lens of your own perspective as a parent, it really highlights an amazing aspect of our God: that our sin, our pain, and our rebellion cause God’s heart to break. It doesn’t have to be that way. Apart from what you read in Scripture, would you even know whether, say, a doodlebug is being morally good or bad, whether it’s having a bad day or a good one, and would you really care even if you did? Do you even go out of your way not to step on it? In terms of power, authority, and majesty of God, we’re somewhere south of the doodlebug in natural relevance.
Yet, somehow our sin caused God’s heart to break, caused him emotional pain, in a way he may have never before have been injured (although Satan’s rebellion may have caused similar pain). God is characterized by love; He IS love. To love requires that the beloved has free will, otherwise it’s lust, or obsession, or possession, but not love. And, free will always carries with the possibility that the subject of your love will betray your love and break your heart. Further, in the case of God, that betrayal brought about the state of sin, and the brokenness of all that is, which leads to God’s creation, us, experiencing infinitely more pain as we reap the consequences of our own folly and those of living in this broken, fallen, world: effects both of our making and not of our making, yet which both bring untold pain and suffering. God sees all of that as a parent, and feels it for us. By choosing to be the God of love, he becomes the God of heartbreak.
But, that’s not nearly all of it. Because sin and brokenness separated us from God, created an inseparable barrier. And, while God could feel for us, he could not feel like us, or as us. As a perfect being, separated from the fallenness and brokenness of a sinful world, he could not experience pain like we feel it, because God was not one of us.
Until Christmas. Until he decided to enter into human history and, for the first time in all creation, become something other than he once was. Something more. As the theologians say, God kept that which he was, his “God-ness,” and took on that which he was not: us. He didn’t lose anything he was, but he became one of us, yet without one critical thing all the rest of us have, personal culpability for sin.
We all know that God became the God-Man, Emmanuel, God with us, so that he could ultimately be the sacrifice, the only one who would and could be the atonement for our sins, and the state of sin generally hanging over and condemning creation. But it just hit me the other day that, in becoming a man, he also entered into a deeper level of pain and suffering than he had ever before experienced in eternity. Because he became aligned with our hearts, with our experience, in a way he had never before been, he was also now capable of feeling pain in a way no one other than humans, the highest of God’s creation, are capable of feeling.
This means that God not only feels his own pain, but he deeply cares about mine. He cares about the anguish of my soul so much that, through the Incarnation, he aligned himself with my soul in such a way that he actually feels my pain and suffers along with me. The word “sympathy” means “with pain,” meaning to suffer with or alongside. When I suffer for my children, I hurt for them, but I don’t actually feel what they feel, in the moment. I have three of them, and a wife, and if I did, it would be too much for my humanity to take. It would overwhelm me, in addition to my own pain; I’d be a basket case, needing to be institutionalized. Yet, because he is God, Christ can not only actually feel the pain I am feeling, suffering alongside me, but he can feel yours and all of his children, as well.
When we talk to him, pray to him, cry out to him, he knows. He gets it, because he is experiencing it with us. He’s not standing aside saying “tsk, tsk, that sucks for you, so sorry.” His heart is rending, too. He’s the only one who truly gets it. He’s advocating for us, crying out to his Father with us, through the same Holy Spirit we have access to, with groanings too deep for words.
This also means that, when we pray and (at least from our perspective) answering the prayer would alleviate, relieve our pain–heal the disease, remove the person torturing us, solve our problem with a miraculous solution–not answering those prayers in the way we prayed them means that his pain doesn’t get immediate relief, either. He continues to suffer and persevere with us. For me, anyway, this shows me an even deeper meaning to my suffering, my prayers that aren’t answered in the way I pray them.
He also knows what it’s like to have unanswered prayer in that sense. He felt it at Gethsemane, and he feels that pain every time ours are unanswered, as well. And, yet, as God, he knows what Tyler Staton observes from the Book of Revelation, Chapter 8: that God not only stores up every single prayer you’ve ever prayed, treasuring it like you do that piece of art your child created in second grade, but he stores them up, one day raining them down on the earth to renew and restore the world. As God, Jesus knows that every prayer is an answered one, a “not yet,” instead of a “right now.”
And, as man, he knows that he’ll continue to endure the pain of those presently unanswered prayers, along with the other pain of our lives, all the while and at the same time knowing that the pain itself is bearing tremendous fruit in our lives, and preparing us for that last day. He’s willing to endure that pain, for all of us, with all of us, wholly and completely, every day, just like he bore it for us at Calvary. Because he’s the suffering God.