By Femi Aribisala
A man suffering from tuberculosis went to see a doctor. The doctor decided to catch the disease first, the better to understand the ailment.
On the cross, Jesus cried out, saying: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). What kind of a statement is this? It is easily understood when it was David who made this plaintive cry. But here Jesus, the Son of God, makes the same complaint.
Does God forsake his children? Does God forsake man? Should Jesus, of all people, not know any better? Put another way, does the son of God not know that God does not forsake his sons? Surely Jesus knows that God does not forsake his people. Surely Jesus knows that God does not refuse to help the helpless. So why does he make such a false accusation against God?
When Jesus himself was asleep in a boat during a storm, his disciples hurriedly woke him up asking: “Don’t you even care that we are going to perish?” Jesus rebuked them and asked why they were so fearful. He told them that they were of little faith, and then promptly rebuked the storm and there was calm. But on the cross, Jesus himself seems to be guilty of the same faithlessness. He asks the Father the same impertinent question: “Don’t you even care that I am suffering here?”
Jesus’ cry on the cross is the greatest identification of God with man in the history of humanity. By this cry, God entered into the mainstream of the human experience. God himself cried out on man’s behalf for salvation and redemption. Man in Christ cried out to God in desperation, in confusion, and in disappointment. Why, if you are God; why, since you are God, are you allowing all this calamity to happen to us?
On the cross, God entered so completely into the human experience and validated human suffering. God’s zeal for man was so great, he decided to enter into the fellowship of human sufferings. God in Christ became our brother in adversity. God himself became our advocate. Jesus became our lawyer, and he presented our case eloquently against God.
“Why God? Why do you say you love us and yet allow us to go through so much suffering? Why do you sit back and watch us get raped, tortured, robbed, killed, and destroyed all day long? Why? Why are you the Almighty and yet you allow wars to happen, earthquakes to destroy, diseases and plagues to ravage? Why have you forsaken your people? Don’t you even care that we are perishing every day?”
These nagging questions have led many to atheism. Some are convinced God does not exist because of the havoc they see in the world. Others insist that although he exists, he only took part in creation and thereafter went on sabbatical. Yet others are simply angry with him. They were once believers but not anymore.
Why, they reason, should we serve a God that allows our children to die of sickle cell anemia? Why should we bother with a God who just watches while we are gang-raped and violated? What is the point of a merciful heavenly Father who stands by as our husbands betray us with other women, or as our sons contract AIDS at the dentist, or as our siblings die prematurely through the error of doctors?
But oh, how God cares! He cares so much he shouts himself hoarse warning us about the wrong choices we persist in making. God begs man, he cajoles, he pleads and he threatens. “Please choose life, so that you and your seed may live.” But persistently we choose death and then rant and rage against God on our death-bed.
The nature of this world, a place of sin, death and destruction, is not the making of God. Man is the architect. We disobeyed; we transgressed, we refused to follow the commandments of our loving Father. Therefore we got exactly what we deserve. “Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor his ear heavy, that it cannot hear. But our iniquities have separated us from our God; and our sins have hidden his face from us, so that he will not hear.” (Isaiah 59:1-2).
Nevertheless, the Lord would still not forsake his people. God has a plan and this plan was set in motion from the foundation of the world. God is not simply interested in healing man. That would have been too impersonal. God is not only interested in comforting man. Yes, he is the God of all comforts. But in Christ, God is in the first place interested in sharing in man’s ordeal, even though it is of our own making.
A man suffering from tuberculosis went to see a doctor. The doctor was the Good Samaritan therefore he did not just prescribe a cure. The doctor decided to catch the disease first, the better to understand the ailment.
A thief accused of stealing employed a lawyer to plead his case. The lawyer was the Good Samaritan so he said: “In order for me to defend you properly, I need to have a complete understanding of your predicament.” So he conspired to have himself also accused of stealing. When the time came for the trial, the lawyer would not just be defending a client; he would be defending himself.
This was the case of God with regard to man through Christ Jesus. We were the poor and defenceless traveller on the way from Jerusalem to Jericho. Our adversary, the devil, robbed us, stripped us and wounded us. We were by nature dead in trespasses and sins, completely without strength; unable to defend ourselves. Then Jesus, the Good Samaritan, came and had compassion on us. He bound up all our wounds. He took us to the hospital and put all the expenses for our treatment on his own account.
So doing, the armed robbers were able to pounce on him as well: “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5). In all our afflictions, he became afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved us. In his love and in his pity he redeemed us, and he picked us up from the miry clay. (Isaiah 63:9).
Therefore, we cannot say anymore that God does not care. No more can we say God is indifferent to human suffering and adversity. In Christ, God answered that human question conclusively. God not only cares, he does not separate himself from human suffering. “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15).
Indeed, man does not even know what suffering is. No mere mortal has ever experienced the kind of agony Christ went through on the cross. Suffering, great suffering, comes from the anguish of the soul. This comes when God turns his back on man. This was Jesus’ predicament on the cross. For the first time in eternity, the Father turned his back on his beloved Son and the agony was too much for Jesus to bear.