And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). Mark 15:34
Today’s devotional again comes from a Chinese house church pastor who was arrested and held for three weeks just prior to this talk. He says his experience was going with Christ to the Garden and to the Cross. Today he continues and explains another aspect of The Cross:
But it is not all triumph. I know some pastors who said they just smiled all the time from the moment they were arrested, and felt unutterable joy the whole time. I suppose that is possible. After all, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego seemed to be very calm throughout their ordeal. But we must not make that the test of true spirituality. The Psalmists are full of despair and questioning as they go through hard times. So were Jeremiah and Job and Habakkuk. And most sobering of all, our Lord Himself was heard to cry from the Cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)
This is the dark side of the experience. What makes suffering hardest to bear are the questions, the voices that well up within each of us, that are full of doubts, despair and depression. And I believe this is OK. As humans we were not meant to suffer. We were made to be part of a perfect world, with no sorrow or sighing, an Eden where everyone was righteous and fulfilled. So when we suffer, there is a sense in which our bodies and spirits witness saying, “This is unnatural, this is not why we were created.”
In my own case, I wondered whether God had turned His back on me, or was punishing me for past sins. Yes, I know that sounds odd after all I have just said about feeling the power of God within to forgive my persecutor, and having the angel strengthen me. But you forget these things in the dark watches of the night, sleeping sandwiched between two prisoners and being cursed by everyone because you need to rise and go to the toilet; and so everyone must wake up and shift their position. It was the nights that were worst.
But most of these doubts were not weaknesses as such; they were attempts to comprehend the incomprehensible. Where is God here? What’s He up to? How can this possibly extend His kingdom? How is His glory served by one of my sisters being raped by an interrogator? The fact is, when we suffer, there is so much that we cannot understand. I read somewhere that “because we are human, we yearn to understand, but because we are human, we cannot understand.”
Suffering puts us in our place. It humbles us to realize that we are not really in charge of our lives. This is a hard realization. God is in charge, and His purposes can be hard to discern at times. He takes even the sin of the world, and turns it to good account. We often do not see how He does this, but we believe it. Accepting it in faith is never easy when you are suffering.
RESPONSE: Today I will not try to understand the incomprehensible. I will accept God’s goodness in everything by faith.
PRAYER: Pray for Christian prisoners going through great pain today that they may know His touch.