A Holy Week reflection on suffering


For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Christ and Him crucified.
1 Corinthians 2:2

The cross of Jesus Christ is central to our faith, and its presence could not be more evident during this time of year. In this season, we remember the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We have prepared our hearts through Lenten devotion. We have set our minds on Good Friday in order to discern the grace of God in the most difficult of situations. Even now, we wait with bated breath for hope to rise again with resurrection power on Sunday morning.

We can't wait for Sunday morning. Sunday morning is when the darkness of night meets the light of day. It is when life overcomes death. It is where brokenness and loss encounter God's resurrection power. We long for Sunday morning because we have lived in the shadow of the cross. We have seen hardship. We have agonized over impossible decisions. We have been paralyzed by unexpected things. We have watched hope breathe its last. We have been left speechless, even as our hearts cry-out for something more, for something different. We live in a world desperate for Sunday morning.

Yet, even as we look toward Resurrection Sunday, there is a temptation to rush through the pain of Friday and the emptiness of Saturday. We want to declare resurrection hope and eternal life, but to hurry would be a mistake. In the midst of navigating the complexities of life, the apostle Paul writes, "For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Christ and Him crucified."

Why would Paul make such a resolution? Why would he place such an emphasis on setting his attention on Christ and His crucifixion? I believe it is because there is power in the cross (see 1 Corinthians 1:18). There is power to redeem a lost world and to ransom sinful human hearts, AND there is power to sustain the hurting and the broken. To miss either of these would be to miss the power and the beauty of the cross.

There is no doubt people need a divine redemption to restore what was lost in the fall, but the redemption of God is not limited to a future culmination, where God makes all things new. God is at work amid the pain, not just in defiance of it. Pain awakens us to our profound need for God. C.S. Lewis writes, "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world" (The Problem of Pain, pg. 91). And sometimes we need to be awakened.

Pain also shapes personal character. Consider these odd words about the life of Jesus, "Even though Jesus was God's Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered" (Hebrews 5:8). There are two thoughts worth mentioning here.

First, suffering is not necessarily the direct result of sin. Jesus didn't suffer because he did something wrong or because God wanted to teach him a lesson. He lived in a broken and sinful world, and suffering was simply a part of his life.

Second, suffering teaches us dependence on God. Perhaps this goes without saying, but "not everything in life goes our way." Remember the prayer of Jesus in the Garden: "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done" (Luke 22:42). Jesus did not want to die. He was, instead, willing to die. Then, while hanging on the cross, "Jesus called out with a loud voice, 'Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.' When Jesus said this, he breathed his last" (Luke 23:46). In the presence of so much suffering, Jesus trusted God to his last breath. What a great lesson. Jesus held onto to God through it all, from life to death and from death to life everlasting.

As we think about this week, it is tempting to rush to Sunday morning and to declare the resurrection power of God, but might we be a little more patient and resolve to know nothing "except Christ and Him crucified." There is something important happening in the suffering of Friday and in the silence of Saturday.

It defies a quick response. It requires us to pause in the pain and to wait respectfully as God accomplishes something only God could do. God is providing salvation through the life and death of Jesus, and God is providing a way through suffering and pain.

It might be tempting to hurry to Resurrection Sunday morning, but might we wait just a moment longer. There are some things, which require a little more patience and a lot more courage. There are no easy answers for sickness and suffering, for physical disease and mental illness, for personal loss and deep grief. God knows this and God gives us "Christ and Him crucified." Perhaps, in our most difficult moments, all we can do is wait with Jesus on the cross and at the entrance of the tomb. This is not the end, but the moment is still ours. It is hard, but God remains present and faithful. And who knows God's redemption might just be at work. There might just be strange gifts like sufficient grace, renewed strength and new life just when we thought all was lost (see 2 Corinthians 12:7-10; Isaiah 40:28-31; Matthew 28:1-7).

Joshua Stowe is the Minister of Pastoral Care at the First Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Biblical Languages from Oklahoma Baptist University, a Master of Divinity in Biblical Studies from Logsdon School of Theology at Hardin-Simmons University, and a Doctor of Ministry in Christian Nurture and Spiritual Formation from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Dr. Stowe is a member of the American Association of Christian Counselors. He is a Board Certified Pastoral Counselor with post-graduate studies in counseling from B.H. Carroll Theological Institute. Contact: joshua.stowe@fbca.org

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