Paul makes us to know that the Holy Spirit is not exempted from ‘groaning.’ “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groaning which cannot be uttered” (Rom. 8:26). To groan is “to make a long low sound, especially because one is in pain or unhappy. “ The theology of ‘suffering God,’ argues that the Divine bears our pains, emotions, existential vicissitudes and challenges. This is premised on the fact that in His nativity and incarnation, Jesus Christ took on the form of man. Therefore, He slept. He wept. He agonised; and since He is a Being with His Father, their image is the same (John 8:19, 10:30).
The suffering of Christ Jesus was not accidental. It was predetermined by God. It was foretold by the Prophets, especially Isaiah. Isaiah (53:1-10) foretold the thirty-six fold suffering of the Messiah. Isaiah 52:14 gives a hint of this when it states, “Just as many were astonished at you, so His visage was marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of man.” The Messiah will be doubted or greeted with unbelief. He will lack form and comeliness. He will be devoid of beauty such that no one would desire Him (vv. 1-2). In passages that follow, unpalatable terms and phrases such as despised, rejected, sorrow, grief, not esteemed, stricken, smitten, afflicted, wounded, transgressions, bruised, chastisement, oppressed, slaughter, prison, cut off from the land of the living, grave with the wicked , death, violence, grief, etc. were tied to the person of the Messiah .
Who would want such Messiah? This was Christ Jesus being prophesised about in the Old Testament. But the Prophet was comforting: “Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin… Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong, because He poured out His soul unto death, and He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bore the sins of many and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:10-12).
No doubt, only the guilty and a criminal should suffer as has been predicted for the Messiah. But there is an underlying reason for this: “For God so love the world that He gave us His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:16-17). The story of Jesus Christ is called the Good News because it is a narrative that tells of Christ’s redemption and salvation of man from death.
To be redeemed implies paying a price or ransom. “For you were bought with at a price!” (1 Cor. 6:20, 7:22-23). We benefit from Christ’s suffering because by His blood we are redeemed and washed (Col 1:14). In His suffering we are drawn closer to God (Eph 2:13). It is a purposeful agony carried out to lift off us the burden of sin and its fatal consequences. It is a suffering of atonement done in our stead. Paul, John and the Writer of Hebrew called it a “propitiation for our sins” (Rom 3:25; Heb. 2:17; 1 John 2:2) “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
In Christ Jesus we are reconciled with God. But we have to accept Him as our Lord and Saviour. He has availed us three things that can save our souls and secure eternal life for us. “But such were some of you; but you are washed, but you are sanctified, but you are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11). To be washed is to be cleansed of all our sins. We need to be born again (Joel 2:32; John 3:3; Acts 2:21; Romans 10:9-14). Let us come to Jesus, calling His name and the Holy Spirit to catapult us to the level of divine purity. To be sanctified is to be separated from sin and be dedicated to God (John 17:17). Sanctification is a precondition for justification. It is only the sanctified that God will pronounce as justified, righteous, not guilty and freed from sin (Rom 3:26, 6:7; Rev 22:11).
Let us not make uncommon the grace and mercy God has bought us in Christ Jesus, the only One worthy to open the scroll and its seven seals (Rev 5:5). In the Epistle to the Hebrews we read: “Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach” (Heb. 13:12). In Christ’s suffering, the pain is His! The gain is ours. The Blood and Cross are His suffering’s symbols.
Be blessed. Shalom.
Rev’d Dr Karo Ogbinaka lectures at the Department of Philosophy, University of Lagos and member of the Editorial Board of The Trumpet