We live in a world desperate for hope. When we see images of people suffering from the horrors of a chemical attack, we need hope. When we hear of all too familiar violent crime involving someone pulling a gun and randomly shooting down helpless victims, we need hope. When people suffer from illnesses, injustices, natural disasters, and tragic accidents, hope is greatly needed. With such a desperate need for hope, how does this day—Good Friday—address the issue of suffering and bring hope?
The late Frank Lake was the founder of the Clinical Theology Association. In his two-volume work, Clinical Theology, Lake tells the story of a letter he had received from a university student whom he had been counseling. This student was struggling with human suffering while it seemed to her that God stood idly by. Late one evening she was alone in the chapel of the university and began screaming at God for the suffering she’d experienced in her life. In addition, she chided God for the suffering she witnessed in the lives of others. While pouring out her anger toward God, it dawned on her that through the cross God knew suffering firsthand. She retells her experience to Dr. Lake in the following words:
I was livid with His apathy. Didn’t He know what His carelessness had done to us? For the first time in my life I dared to demand an explanation. When none came, I was angrier than I ever remember being. I turned my eyes to the plain wooden cross and I remembered Calvary. I stood in the crowd which crucified Him, hating and despising Him. With my own hands I drove the nails into His hands and His feet, and with bursting energy I flogged Him and reviled Him and spat with nauseated loathing. Now He should know what it felt like—to live in the creation He had made. Every breath brought from me the words: “Now You know! Now you know!” And then I saw something that made my heart stand still. I saw His face, and on it twisted every familiar agony of my own soul. “Now You know” became an awed whisper as I, motionless, watched His agony. “Yes, now I know” was the passionate and pain-filled reply.
Why else should I come?” Stunned, I watched His eyes search desperately for the tiniest flicker of love in mine, and as we faced one another in the bleak and the cold, forsaken by God, frightened and derelict, we loved one another and our pain became silent in the calm (820-821).
The cross of Jesus Christ speaks to us in our suffering reminding us that when humans suffer, God doesn’t stand far off. The prophet Isaiah, speaking about the future servant Messiah, calls him “a man of suffering, familiar with our pain” (Isaiah 53:3). On the cross Jesus suffered the injustice of being wrongly sentenced to death. He was deprived of his rights. His own people rejected him, and those closest to him forsook him. Jesus fully identifies with the human condition of suffering.
How does this bring us hope? We have hope because we are not alone in our suffering. As Steve Seamands says in his book Give Them Christ, “The cross tells us in no uncertain terms that God in Christ is one with us in our suffering” (69). As others have said, “Jesus is the fellow sufferer who understands.” John Stott reminds us of how vitally important the suffering of Jesus is to our faith. Stott writes,
I could never myself believe in God if it were not for the cross. … In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? [At the cross] he laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us. Our sufferings become more manageable in light of his. There is still a question mark against human suffering, but over it we boldly stamp another mark, the cross which symbolizes divine suffering” (The Cross of Christ 327-328).
Yet, there is even a greater reason for hope on Good Friday. God not only participates in our suffering through the cross of Jesus Christ, God uses suffering to redeem fallen creation. Again, Steve Seamands sheds light on the hope found in the cross of Jesus Christ
God’s solution to the problem of suffering is not to eliminate it, nor to insulate himself from it, but to participate in it, to transform it into his instrument for redeeming the world. God weaves [the cross] into his redemptive plan and pattern for the salvation of the world and for our salvation too. He takes the terrible tragedy of the cross and turns it into a triumph (71).
As you begin to turn your heart and mind toward the hope of Easter, please don’t rush past the importance of the hope that Good Friday brings. God does not look past our sufferings but joins in our sufferings on the cross. God transforms the sufferings of the cross into the triumph of Easter!
-Dr. Steve Pulliam
Lake, Frank. Clinical Theology. London: Darton, Longman, & Todd, 1966.
Seamands, Stephen. Give Them Christ. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2012.
Stott, John. The Cross of Christ. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2006.