GOING WHERE the PAIN IS?
BY: JAN A. ANTONSSON
MARCH 26, 2016
The Glory Road Blog, A Kingdom Highway
“Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.” (Isaiah 53:10, NIV)
The inspiration for this blog piece came from a meditation by Fr. Richard Rohr entitled, “Liberation Theology,” about which he says, “One of the great themes of the Bible, which begins in the Hebrew Scriptures and is continued in Jesus and Paul, is called “the preferential option for the poor”; I call it “the bias toward the bottom.”
This is a fascinating, timely topic, one which spans the entire Bible. All scripture is about God’s interaction with mankind, whom He created in His own image and likeness. Sadly, most of the stories of the Bible are about the abject spiritual and/or physical poverty of men and women trying and failing to keep the Law, to obey God, and to transform themselves and others. Our failures are the reason why Christ came clothed in flesh and died for our inadequacies, our sins, our ungodly attitudes, and our weaknesses.
God did not come in the flesh to the rich and powerful, but to the poor and marginalized those without voice or advocate, hope or means of accessing the divine. To them, He “has been poured out in a gush and shed forth so that it now floods within our hearts, permeating the core of our being, through the Set-apart Breath-effect (or: Holy Spirit; Sacred Attitude) being given to us (in us; for us)” (Romans 5:5b, Jonathan Mitchell’s New Testament Translation).
Providentially (there are no coincidences), a friend sent the following question to a few of us for our consideration this week. He wrote: “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) His question is, “What would be wrong with this verse if it read like this: “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were not sinners, Christ died for us.” End quote.
I’m not exactly certain what my friend meant to convey with his question, but in the middle of the night, God began to show me that His love and grace is present in every story, every situation and every person who appears in the Bible, beginning with Adam and Eve. Because Cain slew his brother Abel, God could have taken his life in retribution, but He did not. Abraham and Sarah decided to help God keep His promise to give them an heir, using Sarah’s maid Hagar as a surrogate. When Sarah sent her maid Hagar and Ishmael, the son she had born to Abraham, out into the wilderness, where they were likely to die, God saved them and made a great nation of Ishmael, much to the consternation of Isaac’s heirs to this day.
Aaron, the High Priest of the Covenant God made with Israel on Mount Sinai, created a golden calf for the people to worship. He was a weak man, a spineless coward, but God gave him grace to serve and help Moses in this elevated position.
When Israel came to Samuel and demanded a king to rule over them, the prophet was devastated because God Himself was their King. He foretold the agonies that they would endure from evil, greedy monarchs who would press their sons into military service and exact high taxes on their produce. His efforts were to no avail, and so, by God’s instruction, he anointed Saul as their king.
The sad litany of the kings of Israel and Judah take up many blood stained pages in the Old Testament. Their idolatry and shedding of innocent blood eventually prompted God to send them into Babylon captivity for 70 long years. Bible scholars suspect that this is where they picked up the hideous doctrine of hellfire and eternal torment. From the time the Babylonian monarch Nebuchadnezzar conquered Judah and hauled Israel’s king Zedekiah off to Babylon in 586 B.C, Israel was never a sovereign nation again until 1948! (See II Kings 24:18-25:21).
For 400 long years God was silent between the writing of the book of Malachi in the Old Testament and Matthew in the new. By the time Jesus came on the scene, Israel was under the control of the Roman Empire. The once proud nation, called God’s chosen people, were little more than serfs to their Roman task masters. They were desperate for the promised Messiah to deliver them from Rome.
Into this milieu of poverty and hopelessness, Jesus was born in a poor family, birthed in a stable and laid in a manger where animals fed. He had compassion for the hurt, the pain, and the awfulness of guilt and shame that unforgiven sin leaves in its wake.
My answer to my friend’s question, “What if Romans 5:8, said that while we were NOT sinners, Christ died for us,” is that it misses the point of the incarnation entirely. God came in the flesh to redeem flesh and blood, to show us His great love for us, sinners all. Even IF you could find someone who was not a sinner, and did change the verse, it would not change the facts clearly shown in Scripture and reflected existentially in all human experience. All were sinners then and all are sinners now. All suffered pain and guilt and shame, and still do today. Christ came to do so much more than forgive sin. He came to live His life in us and through us. He came to address our pain and sickness and suffering and the indignities of being human.
Most of us were taught that Christ came to bleed and die on the cross so that we can go to heaven when we die. Growing up, I never heard one sermon about how much God loves us, or better still, how Christ living His life in us and through us benefits us continuously and progressively in this life. We don’t have to wait to enjoy heaven when we die. We access heaven now, IN Christ, IN US!
Isaiah revealed that it was “the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, (as) a guilt offering.” (Isaiah 53:10) He comes to all who are poor and downtrodden, having nailed to the cross the pain and suffering caused by multi-generational sin. Remember that the sin offerings in the Old Testament did not forgive sin, because the Hebrew writer reminds us that it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to forgive sin (Hebrews 10:4). Under the Law of Moses, those sins were just rolled forward for a year.
Jonathan Mitchell’s translation of Romans 5:11, highlights and emphasizes the real blessing for us of Christ’s death: “And not only that, but further, we also are now folks constantly celebrating, speaking loudly and boasting within, and in union with, God, through our Owner (or: Lord; Master), Jesus Christ, through Whom we NOW receive (or: actively seize; grasp; take-down and hold by hand) the [aforementioned] act of being changed from enmity to friendship!
Here is Richard Rohr’s conclusion to his March 20th meditation: “Liberation theology, instead of legitimating the self-serving status quo, tries to read reality, history, and the Bible not from the side of the powerful, but from the side of the pain. Its beginning point is not sin management, but “Where is the suffering?” Our starting point makes all the difference in how we read the Bible. Jesus spends little time trying to ferret out sinners or impose purity codes in any form. He just goes where the pain is. I dare you to try to disprove that.” End Quote.
Christ is still going to where the pain is in each of our lives, using it to increasingly transform us into His image and likeness and reveal to us, His and our Father God. My dear old friend and mentor Harry Robert Fox lies in God’s waiting room in a Senior Nursing Facility in Orem, UT. He is totally physically, incapacitated, but he has a steady stream of visitors coming to his room to hear the life giving goodness of the Gospel. How can this be? Because Christ came to where his pain is and flows through him to those also in spiritual pain, hungry and thirsty for God’s love, which flows from Harry like a river of living water.
Father, we thank You for loving us enough to enter into this world of sin and strife, pain and suffering, and for delivering us from ourselves and our failed efforts to be good. We bow to Your total control, and receive by grace, Your life in us and through us to those who do not yet know You. We join our voices with all who suffer in our world today, all who have gone before, and together “as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.” To God be the glory, world without end. Amen.