Monday, October 22, 2007

The Suffering Servant

One of the reasons it is said the Jews rejected Jesus as their Messiah is because they were expecting Him to come back as the conquering king, not the suffering servant. But scripture paints the picture of both, as evidenced by the belief of some rabbis in two messiahs, Messiah ben Joseph, the suffering messiah, and Messiah ben David, the victorious king. I suppose, human nature being what it is, it's not hard to imagine how they could have lost sight of the suffering servant, even if Old Testament sacrifices do scream of it: the slain lambs and rams and birds and goats... Jewish temples were filled with the blood of animals, all of them pictures of the bleeding and dying the messiah would do. Pictures of a messiah that had to be human, because God cannot bleed, and angels don't bleed nor, so far as we know, suffer physical pain.

Bleeding and pain are for humans.

That realization seems to me profound. It suggests that part of being human is suffering pain. That, in a sense, humans were made to suffer. Yes, Adam and the woman were made perfect and placed in a perfect environment, but that was done with God's full knowledge that they would eventually fall and be kicked out of the Garden. In fact, I believe the Bible teaches that was His intent. (Not that He made Adam sin, just that He knew He would and decided to use that in His plan.)

When God the Son took on the form of a man it was in order that He could suffer what He never could suffer as God. That's a concept sharply at odds with today's society which seems on a mission to wipe out all suffering. We cringe at the thought of anyone having to suffer, make all kinds of laws to protect ourselves from it, try to pretend we can avoid it if we follow those laws and do all the right things. We act like it's the worst thing ever should we encounter some (and most of what we do encounter is trivial, and certainly far less than what our Lord endured).

I think many times Christianity is sold with the notion that it will end suffering. "Come to Jesus and have peace. Come to Jesus and have happiness and blessing." Yes. There is peace, happiness and blessing in a life lived in Christ. But the world's definition and perhaps many Christians' definition of those terms is not the same as God's. The world's idea means no suffering. Peace comes when all the circumstances are good and right and comfortable. That's not God's definition.

I submit that suffering is a big part of what it means to be human. And that the way a Christian views suffering has a lot to do with how he views the Christian life, and his purpose on earth after salvation.

Charles Hodge in his Systematic Theology, has this to say on the subject:

"If the end of redemption as well as of creation and of providence, is the production of the greatest amount of happiness, then Christianity is one thing; if the end be the glory of God, then Christianity is another thing. The whole character of our theology and religion depends on the answer to that question."
It's a question worth pondering.