I almost hate looking at reenactments of what Jesus went through on Calvary. It’s extremely disconcerting to consider that this was real life, that the “2000 years ago” we casually refer to was someone else’s present moment.
I’ve asked God why Jesus had to suffer so much. But inadvertently bundled up with that question is the question of why do we have to suffer so much?
As I squeamishly try to make eye contact with the grisly facts of history’s biggest injustice, I also wrestle with the millions of other injustices that occur to people – ranging from my own minute tribulations, to much larger things generations have been forced to endure.
In asking why Jesus had to experience pain, I was really asking God why we had to, too.
God’s answer was to me, strange and slightly mind-boggling, like He was taking me and turning me upside down.
I felt like He showed me a scale, tipped first to one side, and then as Jesus died, to the other. And through this I saw in a moment how Jesus bore history’s biggest injustice to bring about history’s actual biggest injustice: The mercy that a twisted, ravaged humanity now gets to experience.
Maybe we bear the biggest injustices now to also tip the scales in the opposite direction. For a chance to – as Jesus’ unfair death did – reveal the grace and compassion of God.
Ever since Jesus bore the penalty for humanity’s evildoings, He created in all unwarranted suffering opportunities to extend grace. And it is this grace that will change the world.
I still don’t know why Jesus had to experience so much pain in His death, but as I see that scale slowly tip in my mind’s eye, I see that the more injustice we go through, the more grace is extended – and can be extended.
Every time we cancel a debt owed to us, not only do we become a little more like Jesus, we give another person one more chance to see Jesus and become more like Him too.
Every time we are unjustly accused or attacked, we now have an opportunity to respond, a choice to make. We can avenge ourselves, or we can understand that true justice is Jesus getting what He died for: One more beating heart, one more cleaned up life, one more intimate relationship with Him – starting with our own.
Ever since Jesus bore the penalty for humanity’s evildoings, He created in all unwarranted suffering opportunities to extend grace.
In this age, everyone’s clamouring for their own form of justice. Everyone’s policing everyone else. It seems that there’s less and less room for grace and mercy. But that’s what Jesus came for, isn’t it? And that’s what we get to demonstrate every day in how we choose to respond to things that happen to us.
Love can lead us directly into pain and misunderstanding. Devotion to God led Daniel into the lion’s den. Integrity and non-compromise in the face of envy and false accusation led Joseph into slavery and prison. Passion and zeal led Paul into torture and martyrdom. Perfect obedience and selflessness led Jesus to earth, the cross, and literal hell.
I believe it’s true that the worst things happen to the ones who don’t count the cost of love and obedience to God. Jesus died for our lives to reflect Him, not to be pain-free.
Which leads me back to the brooding questions within me.
On my own microscopic level, I’ve been through my own set of misunderstandings, and I was always asking God why they had to happen and hurt so much.
I think that this is pertinent today, because I’m seeing that misunderstandings within the Church and within our communities can potentially create the biggest rifts, even – and perhaps especially – amidst all our striving towards unity.
And as I brought the pain before God, I felt like He was stretching out the borders of my vision and leading me to see everything against the backdrop of love and genuine care.
Sometimes, misunderstanding stings so much only because someone loved you enough to try to understand – but failed.
And moving forward, as we seek to be one in the face of tribulation and offence, and as any number of things threaten again and again to pull us apart, we need to learn to frame all disagreements and friction against the backdrop of love.
To have enough largeness of heart, that even when it seems there is hardly any common ground to stand on, we can be thankful we were even close enough for iron to sharpen iron.