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Where the Suffering Love of Jesus Takes Us

 

Suffering love: the pinnacle value of Christian faith

Suffering love is the pinnacle value of Christianity.  It is rooted in the suffering of Jesus on the cross–a reality we can never fully fathom: the aching loneliness, the wrenching pain, the sense of total abandonment.  Suffering goes to the core of our human situation.  It points to our connectedness, reminding us–again and again–that “we’re all in this together.” 

Human suffering can evoke the best in the human spirit–where it evokes our compassion (our feeling with), our kindness, our deepest, most human feelings for one another. The actuality of this compassion goes deeper than our words.  Indeed, it is a lifestyle.  A useful metaphor for this compassion, as suggested by Marcus Borg in his book, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time (page 48), is to say it is womblike (i.e., like a womb, or wombish, as in the very core of our being).  What a powerful image of God’s compassion. 

Suffering love unlocks our human capacity for compassion–to feel with another person in the grip of his or her suffering.  In this sense, Suffering love nurtures in us a humble spirit and a big heart.  Overflowing with compassion, suffering love nudges us to grow to where we see every human being from the vantage point of the BIG PICTURE, or the whole of our lives–the whole family, the whole group, the whole team, the whole church, the whole community.  The point is that when life is good for the whole, it is good for the individual as well. 

Suffering love and the search for meaning

While suffering love reminds us “we’re all in this together,” at the same time, it nurtures our search for meaning.  We humans are obsessed with this search.  Eagerly, even desperately, we want to live meaningful lives.  One of the keys to this search is the humble awareness of our connectedness. 

Sometimes–like these intensely polarized times in our nation right now–we need to be reminded of our common humanity.  In spite of all the sick, ugly–even evil–things going on in our country, still, when the sun sets in the west, we are all human beings–made of the same stuff.  The truth of our common lives is that there is no separation; there is no compartmentalization.  We are all connected–and not just to one another, but to all of creation.

The psalmist reminds us of this in these poetic words:

 

Where can I go from your spirit?  Or where can I flee from your presence?

If I ascend to heaven, you are there;

if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.

If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,

even there your hand shall lead me,

and your right hand shall hold me fast.  (Psalm 139:l7-10)

 

In his best-selling book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl, who had been a prisoner in Auschwitz, recounts how people coped with the horrors of the concentration camp.  The question he wrestled with was: How were people able to maintain any sense of hope while surrounded by so much anguish, terror, and horror?  He finally concluded that–somehow–people came to a deeper appreciation of the spiritual dimension of life when all hope seemed lost. 

He tells the story of a woman who knew she was going to die; yet, she was calm, even cheerful.  Frankl wanted to know how she could do this?  The woman pointed to a tree thru the window.  “This tree here,” she said, “is the only friend I have in my loneliness.  I often talk to this tree.”  When asked if the tree replied, the woman said, “yes, every time the tree said: ‘I am here. I am life, eternal life.'” 

Stay where the pain is

In regard to human suffering, our Christian faith urges us to embrace the pain, to work our way through it.  We’re urged to not try and escape it, to not flee to more painless space.  As we have noted about suffering, our pain is not just our own.  It is shared by those who know us and love us.

It these hectic, chaotic, stressful, and often depressing times, it’s hard not to get down and wonder how we will get through this.  Indeed, how will we make it to the other side?  A minister recounts how–going through a particularly difficult time–she was weighted down with grief and didn’t know how to move forward.  “I kept throwing myself into work,” she said, “running fast to do something about the pain.”  It was then that a wise friend said,

“Wait right there.  Stay where the pain is, where the suffering is, where the struggle is.  Stay there.  That’s when it’s going to come.  The insight.  The knowing.  The wisdom.  Right there.  It’s not there yet, but it’s coming.”  And as she reflects back, it came  and, with the help of family and friends, she made it through.

We make it through, friends, because resurrection is always coming.  It is always happening.  New life, along with new self-awareness and self-consciousness, is always breaking into our lives.  It is where suffering love takes us.   

 

The Rev. Dr. Jeffrey Frantz is a retired United Church of Christ minister.  He had long term pastorates in San Diego County and in Miami Lakes, Florida.  His service as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Panama in the late sixties spurred his commitment to social-justice ministries and to a spirit of ecumenism as a local church pastor.  He holds a Doctor of Ministry degree from Pacific School of Religion. He is the author of The Bible You Didn’t Know You Could Believe In and his just published book: The God You Didn’t Know You Could Believe In. Dr. Frantz and his wife, Yvette, are now retired and living in Florida.

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