Sometimes I receive devotional e-mail from my Christian friends. There are different kinds, from sentimental poems to quotes from various theologians. Especially around Easter, these are often vivid and devastating descriptions of the physical suffering which the Lord endured at His Passion. Listed in horrifying sequence are the details ~ the number of lashes He would have received in the Roman scourging, the physical affect of the beatings and the crucifixion itself on a human body, each detail more gruesome than the next. It is hard to read, but powerful in that as humans we all understand pain, and we can at least have a small comprehension of the enormity of the physical side of what He endured for our sake. It underscores the innate sin of man, and the incredible love and grace of God in taking upon Himself all that we deserved for our sin.
Consider: here is the spotless Lamb of God, Who always did the Father’s will, whose message was one of compassion and mercy and grace, being beaten to a bloody pulp, spit upon, almost exsanguinated even before he was attached to the cross with those huge spikes, and then the Cross dropped into a hole with a huge jolt ~ it is almost too much to take in. I watched the film “The Passion of Christ” once when it came out, and after that couldn’t bear to see it again. To see with my eyes what I had had only imagined previously was too much. In my head I could soften it a little, sort of skip over the worst parts; but to see it right there, the skin ripped into furrows on His back, the huge thorns pushed into His forehead ~ I wept and knew I could never watch the film again. Even to see an actor portraying the Lord Whom I love suffering so much for my sake made me feel terrible guilt for my part in it; the knowledge that I probably would have been one of the crowd jeering at Him (although I might hope that I would have become one of His followers). It forced me to face the underlying sin of man so deeply that I had to close my mental eyes and try to wipe the images from the inside of my head.
However, sometimes I think we focus so much on the physical horror of the Cross that we forget the emotional and spiritual devastation He also endured. In the course of a recent church service, we re-read Psalm 69, a Messianic Psalm. Even more than the physical suffering the Lord endured was the real point of the Cross ~ the spiritual separation from the Father. It is this which would have been our end, had Christ not stepped in to be our substitute. Our ultimate punishment was not to have been simple physical torture, but to be forever outside the Presence of God.
David writes, “Hear me, O Lord. For Your loving-kindness is good. Turn to me according to the multitudes of Your tender mercies. And do not hide Your face from Your servant. For I am in trouble; hear me speedily. Draw near to my soul and redeem it; Deliver me because of my enemies; You know my reproach, my shame, and my dishonor. My adversaries are all before You. Reproach has broken my heart, and I am full of heaviness. I looked for someone to take pity, but there was none, and for comforters, but I found none. They also gave me gall for my food, and for my thirst, they gave me vinegar to drink.” (Psalm 69: 16-21)
Again, in Psalm 22, David writes prophetically: “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Why are You so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?” He goes on to describe the physical horror of the emotional and physical death he is suffering in the absence of God. “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned t o wax; it has melted away within me. My strength has dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.”
In David’s words of personal anguish, he foretells some of the sufferings of Jesus as He hangs on the Cross. Who can bear to hear that cry of loneliness, of desperation as Christ calls out, “Father, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” It was at that moment that the weight of the sin of the world, my sin, was placed upon Him, and God, in His holiness, turned away from Jesus for the first time. Always before, no matter what was happening to Him on earth, Jesus, as the Christ, had that cord of connection with the Father, and knew that He was not alone. I am stunned by the fact that Christ the Son, God in flesh, now understands the hiddenness of God the Father, the mystery of His silence. It means that when I am floundering in that silence, crying out for Him to answer, Christ knows and understands my confusion and pain.
I have experienced rather a lot of physical pain in my lifetime through various situations. Physical pain is unpleasant, although God has a way of giving us a kind of selective amnesia about much of it later, and helping us move forward. I am not discounting physical pain.
Yet, for me, emotional pain and spiritual pain has always been worse. I tend toward depression, and go through periods where I am so mentally fatigued that it requires every bit of self-will and discipline I have to make me get up and do the things I need to do. I must lean on God and find the will and the strength I need in Him. It makes me anxious when all of a sudden I can’t seem to find Him anywhere; I pray and read my Bible and the words don’t compute. I realize that I NEED God. He is the power which enables me to think and to act and to be. When I can’t feel that connection, I become uneasy, and I must remind myself over and over that no matter how it seems, God is still with me. He may be hidden, but He has promised never to leave me or forsake me. It is trust in this hope which keeps me functioning and alive.
Yet, when Christ hung on the cross, and God turned away from Him, God was really gone; not just hidden, but totally and completely gone from Jesus. At the Cross, not only was the full wrath of man poured out on Him, but also the full wrath of God. Christ was in that place of total separation from God which would be my eternal destiny if I had not received the grace of God in forgiveness. At the cross, all that Christ suffered was for me. How then, can I ever not love Him and follow Him anywhere?
“When I survey the wondrous Cross on which the Lord of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast save in the Cross of Christ my God.
All the vain things that charm me most: I sacrifice them to His blood.
See, from His head, His hands, His feet: sorrow and love follow mingled down.
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet, or thorns compose so rich a crown?
Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small.
Love so amazing, so divine, demands my heart, my life, my all.”
(Isaac Watts – 1674-1748)