Suffering, Part 5 of 5

The fifth in a series of reflections on one of the chiefest themes of the Lenten season and of life

God joins us and shares in our suffering.

As a Christian, this I believe. For this is the power of the cross of the Christian story; the power that makes meaning of suffering.

It is not that Jesus, in any humanly experienced and knowable sense, suffered more than anyone else.

Yes, horrific were his circumstances as one falsely arrested, tried, and convicted by the prevailing system-self-preserving authorities, abandoned by most of his friends and family, beaten mercilessly, compelled to bear the instrument of his death, and then hoisted and impaled on a cross to die by an excruciating means of self-suffocation.

Yet Jesus’ death (though incomparable, as any individual death is), again, from the perspective of common human experience, is no more or less grievous than each person who suffered and died at the cruelest hands of the Middle Passage, the Holocaust, and South African apartheid. Or at the brutal behest of any other past or present, politically or religiously plotted and pursued genocidal pogrom. Or by any other means. For suffering and death is suffering and death; each form or fashion unrivalled by any other in regard to its effect and its end result.

Nevertheless, Jesus’ crucifixion, in its insufferable realism, was, is, and (given all that we know of the world and of ourselves) will be a graphic representation of the repeatability of suffering. In a word, the cross perfectly reflects, precisely is our historical and enduring human experience.

Yet, again, for me, as a Christian, there is more. For, according to the Christian story,[1] the crucifixion, followed by the resurrection, is, therefore, a symbol of suffering made meaningful because it can be a gateway to new life.

Still more, the crucifixion, and circling back to my opening word, represents the relationship of being joined in the suffering of this life. God with us and us with God. Therefore, the cross is a symbol of solidarity. And not a solidarity that suffers with another only for a moment, stepping into the pain of that experience, and then stepping out again, but rather one that, in embracing, entering, climbing up on the cross of the reality of that suffering, lives and breathes, works and bleeds alongside another to change the reality.


Suffering. We all suffer. Yet its meaning does not lie in its mere, mournful repeatability, but rather in a compassion that yields a solidarity that compels us, allows us who suffer to stand, to suffer with all who suffer so to transform the nightmare of what is into the dream of what hope always envisions can be.

This, then, for me, is a[2] meaning of suffering: No matter who we are, our family of origin, culture or creed, race or ethnicity, life’s aims and achievements, material status, and whether young or seasoned in years, as long as we have breath and strength, then we have life and labor to lend our hands and hearts in love, both within our bounds and across lines of division, to heal the hurts of others, all others.

© 2021 PRA

Illustration: Christ on the Cross (1610), Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640)

[1] Here, by “according to the Christian story,” I, intentionally and proverbially, seek to cover every base. That is, whether one views the Christian story as historical (a recount of real events) or ahistorical (either allegorical or fictional, thus, non-actual or unreal), for me, it is no less true in encapsulating and expressing the height, breadth, and depth of human being and becoming.

[2] Whenever I postulate my personal perspective, infrequently do I employ the definite article “the”, which, generally, denoting a person, place, or thing previously known (or presumed to be known) to the audience of listeners/readers, can imply an absolute value or a conclusive or decisive character to the person, place, or thing. Thus, preferably, I use the indefinite article “a”, so to infer that my idea or viewpoint, at best, is one among many.

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