The Suffering G-d (El)
(EL, the title of the Heavenly Father, is herein used in place of the conventional but improper name "God")
There is no reason to be enthusiastic in our praise if our EL can't or won't feel for us, suffer with us, love us with an assertive love. But our EL does love with a high love; and our EL does suffer with us, for us, and among us and within us. EL cares -- and EL is for you.
|Snyder Bible Home All Sermons Isaiah 53:1-5, Isaiah 63:7-9, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25|
We are serving a EL who is like us in many ways. Though EL is spirit, EL feels for us. EL feels pain, rejection, jealousy ... just as we feel ...but amplified to EL-sized proportions. Because we are so emotionally similar, we can participate in EL's mission, and EL can participate in our suffering. EL loves us special, so he is never indifferent or unfeeling toward us. EL is pained when we are in pain. EL is hurt when we hurt.
Someone has said that the opposite of love is not hatred but indifference or apathy. Many Believer groups still believe that EL is away out there someplace, managing a universe that ticks like some great clock; not involved in our little lives unless there is something special EL wants to accomplish.
But if EL were indifferent - like the great unfeeling machine-master that we often portray him - then EL can't be love, nor can EL have love. There is no reason to be enthusiastic in our praise if our EL can't or won't feel for us, suffer with us, love us with an assertive love. But our EL does love with a high love; and our EL does suffer with us, for us, and among us and within us. EL cares -- and EL is for you.
This is made plain in Elie Wiesel's eye-witness story about the hanging of three Jews in a Nazi concentration camp. Two of the condemned were large men. But the third was a young boy about the age of Wiesel himself. All the prisoners were paraded out to see the hanging as an example. Wiesel writes: When they were hung by the neck,
The men died quickly [because they were heavy], but the death throes of the youth lasted for half and hour. 'Where is EL? Where is He?' someone asked behind me. As the youth still hung in torment in the noose after a long time, I heard the man call again, 'Where is EL?' And I heard a voice in myself answer: 'Where is He? He is here. He is hanging there on the gallows.'
And where is EL when you are hanging in torment? EL is with you; he is with you till the end.
Yes, EL suffers with you because EL loves you. And EL lifts you in your suffering because he desires the suffering to be ended. Remember the beautiful poem Footsteps?
'Master, you told me when I decided to follow you, you would walk and talk with me all the way. But I'm aware that during the most troublesome times in my life there is only one set of footprints. I just don't understand why, when I needed you most, you leave me.' He whispered, 'My precious child, I love you and will never leave you.... When you saw only one set of footprints it was then that I carried you.'
Pastor Dennis Nguyen illustrates Footsteps in his true-to-life story of EL's suffering love for him:
When I was eight, I lost my father to cancer. A week after his burial, I became severely ill. The pain in my body eventually paralyzed me. I still remember how my mother, newly widowed, cared for me. She did not discuss with me how I felt. Instinctively, she took me into her arms and caressed my back with her gentle hands, reassuring me with words of comfort and love for me. I grew so sick that I was hospitalized. Since we lived in a remote village [in Vietnam?] about 10 miles from the hospital, my mother carried me there on her back, walking powerfully, uphill and down. With tears streaming down her cheek, she said: 'Son, Daddy is not here. But mommy is still here. Hang in there. We will make it to the hospital soon.'
And isn't this exactly what our scripture tells us that our EL will do in the midst of our distress?
(Is 63:9) In all their affliction, his presence saved them; ... he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.
Friends, a love that doesn't suffer to walk with the beloved is not love at all. What good is a EL who knows nothing of pain and suffering to pained and suffering people? As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote on a scrap of paper smuggled out of his jail cell in a Nazi prison, "Only the suffering EL can help." It is true. Only the one who knows suffering can share in and relieve our sufferings.
The Bible affirms that EL is wounded for the people he loves. In Hosea, a heart-broken EL cries out to his wayward bride Israel,
How can I give you up? How can I hand you over? ... My heart breaks within me; my compassion is warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not again destroy you; for I am EL and no mortal man -- the Set-apart One in your midst (11:8-9)
EL suffered the pain of his broken relationship with an unfaithful bride, his Israel. She had become her husband's enemy through her idolatry and immorality. The Word indicates that EL suffered enormously for the love of his Israel; still He was willing to chase her and court her and reveal Himself to her afresh, despite her betrayal and adulteries.
As Japanese scholar Kitamori has observed, "The 'pain' of EL reflects his will to love the object of His wrath." And such pure and active love cannot sit idly by in the face of betrayal and unrighteousness. For such is a love that actively opposes any thing that dares stand in the way of EL and his people. EL's wrath, then, is EL's love burning hot in the presence of sin; EL's wrath is proof that EL cared for Israel. And if EL cared for Israel in the past and suffered pain on her account, then EL cares for us in the present. And if EL cares for us in the present, EL cares for you today.
And EL has suffered for your sake, and is now suffering if you are suffering. There is no philosophy, Bible teaching, or worldly wisdom that more accurately illustrates such wondrous love than EL's self-sacrificing death, as revealed in the EL-man Yahshua, there hanging on the cruel cross. He was made to become sin for us that we might no longer die by the hand of sin. Friend, if we live at all, we live united with Messiah; and if we die, Messiah has suffered and died. Let us behold his Son dying on the cross for us.
Some have taught that when Yahshua was made sin, EL "turned his back" on him, because EL, in his holiness, couldn't look at sin. Friends, that's a false teaching. EL never once turned his back nor withdrew from Yahshua in his suffering. For like the youth who took so long to die on Hitler's gallows, EL EL's self was suffering and bleeding and hanging and dying for you and me and Israel and humanity. And EL has never turned his back on you either, no matter what you think you have done to deserve his disfavor.
The famous New York Times headline of thirty years ago was true in a measure after all. It read, "EL IS DEAD," reiterating that great Good Friday hymn by Johann Rist,
O great distress, El himself lies dead,
If it weren't EL himself who became sin and suffered for us, what kingdom is left to us? What EL can't participate in, EL can't redeem. If EL hasn't entered into our sufferings, then there can be no hope of redemption or healing.
Yet no one really took his life. He laid it down for the love of you and I. Thus now we herald the good news: EL IS NO LONGER DEAD, EL IS ALIVE. He lives! I know for I have seen him - he has touched me and loved me and suffered with me - and he will heal me through his suffering. Praise EL, "for my beloved is mine and I am his, HIS BANNER OVER MY SUFFERING SELF IS LOVE."
If EL has died so that he might taste our suffering and heal us, then HOW SHOULD WE LIVE? If the way of EL through Messiah was through the cross, then we should live our lives patterned after the Cross. Although we who are overcomers find eventual victory in the face of overwhelming odds, we, as followers of EL through Messiah, must find our victory through the darkness and suffering of the cross. No wonder our style of worship seems ridiculous to the heathen and a stumbling block to the "religious." The cross gets in the way! The cross messes up the system! The cross is the thorns among the roses. "If you are the rose of Messiah, know that you will live among thorns" (Luther). You are his roses -- take upon yourself his thorns!
And the world must see just how we kick against the pricks of the thorns -- that we suffer not because of scandal or strife, but we suffer because we hold the Word of EL as truth -- we preach it -- we practice it -- we die for it. We become the cross -- "the symbol of suffering and shame."
Through the cross, the world can see whether or not you are conformed to the image of Messiah. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the suffering preacher, admonishes us about our responsibility to EL's suffering love:
Where the world exploits, [the Believer] will dispossess himself, and where the world oppresses, he will stoop down and raise up the oppressed. If the world refuses justice, the Believer will pursue mercy, and if the world takes refuge in lies, he will open his mouth for the dumb, and bear testimony to the truth....
We suffer and we die so that others might be saved and live forever!
The belief in a suffering EL can provide an entry point for evangelism. Pastor Nguyen again shares a true illustration of how:
A few years ago I was in the former
Czechoslovakia on a preaching tour. On the plane home a government
official spoke to me. He told me he had attended the service when I had
spoken about Messiah's suffering for his people, and he had left the
service in rage, cursing EL for the suffering he and his family had known:
40 years of [it] under Communist rule; the starvation and death of his
parents; the long years he had spent as a lonely child in an orphanage.
Yes, though roses have their thorns, friends, thorns have their roses, too. And our wonderful Lord meets us in every thicket, every thistled space in our lives that we will surrender to him.
Today, before you go away, take time to consider Martin Luther's advice:
'Contemplate the wounds of Messiah and the blood that was shed for you.' Will you surrender to the one who suffered for you? Will you eat his body in remembrance of his sacrifice for you? Will you drink his blood which was cruelly shed for you?"
"For he was wounded for your transgressions, bruised for your iniquities; the grave punishment for your peace was put upon him, and by the blood of his stripes coursing down his broken body, you are healed."
Jackson Snyder, February 28, 1997
Resources for the Suffering and Perplexed