Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed. Isaiah 53:1-5 (NIV)
One of the most vexing questions that human beings have about life and faith is, “Why do bad things happen?”
It’s easy to think that since God is a God of grace, and He sent His Son to save us, then why do we still suffer? If God is truly omnipotent (has power over everything) then why doesn’t He just wipe out everything bad, right now, forever? Why is there suffering to begin with?
The passage above from Isaiah describes Jesus as the suffering servant, that He came to earth not to lord over us in His glory, but to live as one of us in all the ignominy and struggle that human beings endure. It also gives us a clue to the nature of God. If the Son of God must endure suffering, why do we think we are going to be immune from it?
No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it. 1 Corinthians 10:13 (NRSV)
It’s easy to say that God has a purpose in everything- until you or your life and family is impacted by a catastrophic illness, or a financial crisis, or a natural disaster, or an untimely or seemingly unfair death. Then comes the bargaining and the questions- and the doubt.
When God sent Jesus into this world to be Emmanuel, God with us, He did not send Jesus to look down at us from an ivory tower. He sent Jesus into the real world where there is messiness, pain, suffering, illness and death. He put Jesus into a place where when His friend Lazarus died, His first reaction was the same one we have- He wept. (John 11)
He enters into the world and into the circumstances that we have made in His world- that we have corrupted with our sin.
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.- Romans 6:23 (NRSV)
Every human alive carries the weight of original sin. We all share in what John Calvin described as the “depravity of man,” meaning we have no intrinsic goodness apart from God.
So as “depraved humanity,” living in a world thoroughly corrupted by sin and death, the door is open on every sort of malady and plague. The fact that we still keep breathing and moving and functioning is only by the grace of God.
Some of those maladies and plagues we bring on directly with our own actions, such as knowingly neglecting our health through poor habits, or engaging in dangerous activities. Yet many times bad things happen to people that aren’t so easily explained, and that we can’t readily justify using the natural law of cause and effect. How do we explain kids with cancer, or come up for a reason for natural disasters that kill thousands?
I do not have the answers. I can only hope that by asking the questions to the One Who does have the answers that I will grow closer to Him. I can only ask to have faith in Him and His good purpose, even when I don’t understand. I can only hope to live in His grace.
But I do not count my life of any value to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the good news of God’s grace. Acts 20:24 (NRSV)