He Suffers with Us
I have done a fair amount of counseling over the past few years, and my suspicions are being confirmed. In secret, Christian families do not behave much differently than non-Christian families. Some people who present themselves as dedicated Christians have a shadow side that inflicts great damage on those around them. Are they drawn to the church in an attempt to control these impulses, or is it because they find the church a good place to hide their destructive behavior? Whatever the case, the havoc they create leaves deep scars.
Sadly, I am not surprised by the evil perpetrated by professed Christians. I have experienced it personally. On the other hand, I am surprised by the resilience of the human soul.
I was leading a retreat when a delightfully mature young mother told me about her difficult past. There was a matter-of-fact tone to her voice that I initially took as a sign of denial. The more she talked, however, the more I realized she has truly forgiven those who wronged her. God’s mercy and grace have touched her deeply.
Christians are usually encouraged to forgive quickly. Unfortunately, it is difficult to forgive what you do not understand. What results is a superficial forgiveness that is not sustainable. There is a reason emotional wounds bring on the same grief stages as the death of a loved one—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. When one is deeply wronged there is also a death. Often it is the death of innocence. It takes a very long time for those wounds to heal.
Last year I preached on forgiveness, and 12 months later people still come to me and say it is one of the most difficult messages they have heard. In the sermon, I said forgiveness is letting go of our hope for a different past. Until we understand the reality of our past and grieve it, we will find it difficult to move on.
In order to forgive, we first need someone with whom we can share our pain, someone who is safe and will not judge us, someone who understands. Second, we need to experience the love of the suffering servant, the Son of Man, who knows what it means to be betrayed. With a flesh and blood friend who can help us forgive and an incarnational Savior who precedes us, we can finally move on.
The Greek dramatist Aeschylus lived before the time of Christ. Nevertheless, he summarized well this process of suffering and forgiveness: “He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep, pain that cannot forget, falls drop by drop upon the heart. And in our own despair, against our own will, comes wisdom to us, by the awful grace of God.”
We have a God who suffers with us. That changes everything.