By Jim Tune
A friend of mine has a daughter who struggles with an eating disorder. His friends are sympathetic, but found it hard to understand. One day he attended a support group for fathers of children with eating disorders. I’m not alone anymore, he thought. These people know what I’m going through. They didn’t have to say a word. He felt understood and validated.
God, of course, is not like us. He is so holy and infinite that it can be hard for us to understand him. God said, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9). If you’re like me, you’ve sometimes wondered if God can relate to us. What does God know about paying bills, getting sick, or feeling exhausted at the end of a long day? God is great, but it doesn’t seem like he would have firsthand knowledge of what it’s like to be human.
Except, of course, for Jesus. At Christmas we celebrate the fact that Jesus became one of us. God fully entered the human condition. Fully God, he also became fully human. He learned what it was like to sneeze, to get cold, to fall into bed exhausted. He got sick. He was betrayed. He experienced the full range of human emotions. The only thing he didn’t share with us is sin, but even then he took on our sin at the cross.
Jesus understands. “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:18). Jesus feels sympathy for our weaknesses, because he “has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus, who is God himself, has a firsthand knowledge of our sufferings, because he’s been there too.
John R. W. Stott wrote, “In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? . . . He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us. Our sufferings become more manageable in the light of his.”
We still don’t have all the answers when it comes to suffering. Instead we have something better: the knowledge that God the Son completely understands what we’re going through, because he’s been there too. He’s praying for us even when we’re too weak to pray. Even better, he’s promised to end and redeem all our suffering one day.
We still hurt right now, and nothing will take that away. But we’re not alone. At Christmas we remember that God loved us so much that he chose to enter this world of suffering. He understands.