I’ve been a Christian, or at least have claimed to be a Christian, for a long time. I even did what on the really, really holy do, drop serious amounts of do on a seminary degree. What did it get me? Questions. Lots and lots of questions. One question I’ve wrestled with off and on for a while deals with just how much Jesus understands our humanity, our condition. I didn’t find this question in the graduate classroom, but during the course of everyday life with its’ joys and disappointments.
Yes, the Bible states Jesus knows our weakness and frailty, just not our sinning. Apparently I have not read carefully these texts as I still faithlessly wondered just how familiar Jesus really is with our suffering. Apparently, he knows better than I thought.
The answer was found with a teacher through whom many questions have been answered. His name is Clive Staples Lewis, but since his friends called him “Jack”, I’ll be presumptuous and do the same. In Jack’s book, Letters to Malcom: Chiefly on Prayer, Jack writes:
Does not every movement in the Passion write large some common element in the sufferings of our race? First, the prayer of anguish; not granted. Then He turns to His friends. They are asleep – as ours, or we, are so often, or busy, or away, or preoccupied. Then, He faces the Church; the very Church that He brought into existence. It condemns Him. This also is characteristic. In every Church, in every institution, there is something which sooner or later works against the very purpose for which ti came into existence. But there seems to be another chance. There is the State; in this case, the Roman state. Its pretensions are far lower than those of the Jewish church, but for that very reason it may be free from local fanaticism. It claims to be just on a rough, worldly level. Yes, but only so far as is consistent with political expediency and raison d’etat. One becomes counter in a complicated game. But even now all is not lost. There is still an appeal to the People – the poor and simply whom He had blessed, whom He had healed and fed and taught, to whom He Himself belongs. But they have become over-night (is is nothing unusual) a murderous rabble shouting for His blood. There is, then, nothing left but God. And to God, God’s last words are ‘Why hast thou forsaken me?”
I’m not so sure I can say I’ve ever really been alone as Jesus was during his passion. Jack shows how at every turn, Jesus was rejected in prayer, by his friends, the church, the state, the people, and finally, and only so we would not be, God himself. Now, after reading and sitting with this passage from Letters to Malcom, when I come across those statements in Scripture concerning Jesus’ familiarity with our sufferings, I’ll remember this passage which shows clearly he knows far, far better than I thought.
What does this mean to us on a daily basis? It means that Jesus does know how we feel when we cry out in anguish concerning our loneliness. When we pray and our prayers are answered with “No”, Jesus understands. When our souls find themselves in the barren wasteland of modernity, Jesus understands. When we feel let down by the church feeling they’ve turned more into an institution than His body, Jesus understands. When we hope our friends will come to our aid in our greatest need and they don’t, Jesus gets it. When we hope for the State to make the right legal decisions and they don’t, Jesus says, “Been there.” When the people whom we’ve loved and ministered to turns their backs as if we were strangers, Jesus shows us his scars. And, even when we feel rejected by God, Jesus says, “Yes, I’ve felt the same.”
I’m encouraged by this. I’m reminded that the one I claim to follow is familiar with my sufferings. What other major religious figure willingly associated himself with such suffering? Jesus, heavens true son, assumed such a position by choice so that we might not simply worship an eternally “other” deity, but love our big brother. Other religious figures were born into the common human experience and then tried leaving such a condition behind. Jesus flips the scripts and comes after the lowly. Hallelujah.
I hope I never again wonder how well Jesus knows our suffering. He knows better than I think.