Looking for God

A Lenten Meditation on Suffering

Annually, on Palm Sunday, aka the Sunday of the Passion (suffering), Christians recite the inherently ironic story of Jesus’ triumphal procession into Jerusalem that continues, wending its way outside the city to a Calvary hill of defeat and death. The Apostle Paul, acknowledging the struggle of the human heart to countenance a suffering God, sought to explain this incomprehensibility: Though in the form of God, Jesus…emptied himself…being born in human likeness. And, humbling himself, was obedient to death, even death on a cross.[1]

Beholding God in the crucified Jesus, I also dare to see God in the human likeness of my suffering.

My past mistakes, the memories of which continue to haunt…

My penitence about my characterological flaws that no amount of work, therapeutic or spiritual, seems to cure…

My pessimism about the possibility of healing those seemingly impossibly broken places in my relationships…

My pain of abiding grief at the death of beloved ones…

My pathos about my aging and whatever reminds me of my mortality.

At times, I can be critical, complaining loudly and at length to whomever will listen. At times, I can be cynical, clinging desperately to whatever has not been taken from me. Yet. At times, I can reach a strange state of contentment, conceding what has been lost and concentrating on the moment at hand.

At these times, taking up the Calvary crosses of my life’s tribulations, God is there.

Nevertheless, to look primarily at my own face, focusing principally on myself, I risk losing sight of that always larger reality of being an individual in community and in the world. Thus, I look for God in the faces of others.

Not only in the faces of people I like or love and those who like or love me or who “look” (think, feel, and act) like me. I am reminded of Jesus’ critique of that all too easily constructed and comfortable reciprocity in relationships: “If you love those who love you…(or) do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you?”[2]

I also am reminded of Jesus’ command that I look for him especially in the faces of the “least” – the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned,[3] who hang on countless present day Calvary crosses of struggle and suffering.

In this, I continually learn that whenever I do the heavy lifting of embracing the crosses of life’s tribulations, mine and those of others, especially the least, God is there. For this God, in Jesus’ cross bearing procession to a Calvary hill of crucifixion and death, who, therefore, knows about heavy lifting, is the only God, in this world of worry and woe, worthy of trust.

© 2023 PRA

Illustration: The Face of Pain, a self-portrait (1909), Adolfo Wildt (1868-1931)

[1] Philippians 2.6-8; my revision

[2] Luke 6.32a, 33a

[3] Matthew 25.34-40.

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