I was deeply moved by my friend Pam Jarvis’ exploration of suffering as she pondered Christ’s death. My pastor has often said that we should carry the crucified Christ and His resurrection with us daily, not just once a year. I have put Pam’s article together with a series of paintings that seem to me to exemplify some of her thoughts. I look forward to your comments.

A Good Friday Reflection on Grief and Suffering

We had a huge disappointment this week in our family.  I cried bitter tears because I prayed and others prayed and we all thought it was going to turn our well.  Faithful effort and believing in God’s provision did not result in a real need being answered in a positive way.  It wasn’t as serious as someone dying or getting a terminal diagnosis, or a horrible car accident, a breakup of a marriage, or losing a child.  Looking at the horrible things people around the world are suffering, it doesn’t compare.  But it hurt.

JACQUES-LOUIS DAVID – La Muerte de Marat (Museos Reales de Bellas Artes de Bélgica, 1793. Óleo sobre lienzo, 165 x 128 cm

Where is Jesus when suffering happens?

I was pondering our response, as Christians, to suffering. In the American evangelical church, we are sorely lacking.  We avoid suffering, run from others who are feeling pain or loss, or try to say easy platitudes like “it will get better,” “God is sovereign”, “God works together all things for our good”.  These are all true, of course, but when we have a grave disappointment or are with people who are grieving or lost something important to them, what is our response? Let’s ponder this:

The kitchen maid, Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin, 1738 – c.1740, oil, canvas, 37.5 x 46.2 cm

I started looking at the account of Jesus’s Crucifixion and I noticed different responses to His suffering and death.  Jesus’s mother Mary, and her sister Mary, and Mary Magdalene were near the cross.  John (the Scriptures don’t name this disciple), was present. Most scholars agree he was the best friend of Jesus,“the one he loved”. Jesus noticed them,  as he said, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.”

The other disciples all ran away. (Matt. 26:56)

His closest inner circle fled in fear of being arrested.

Most of us can identify with the difficulty of being with someone we love who is in pain; words don’t really help, sometimes they even make it worse, and we don’t know the right thing to say to fix it or make it better.  Some of us stuff or numb the pain, don’t acknowledge the hurt, or we just hide or run away, like the disciples. I have done all of these things.

Where does our comfort come from in times of loss and grief?  I can’t even imagine what it would be like to be Mary, seeing your son willingly go through unimaginable torture.

The Scream, Edvard Munch (Norwegian, Løten 1863–1944 Ekely), 1895, Lithograph, 20 1/4 x 15 5/8 in. (51.4 x 39.7 cm)

Yet, she stayed.  The two other Marys stayed. John stayed.

The New Testament has many references to the word stay, remain or abide (not a word we usually use). In the Greek, the word abide has these meanings: “To continue to be present, to be held continually, to last or endure, to wait for.”

We are shown in the book of John that the ones who treasured Jesus were present, staying with Him, abiding and enduring the pain and suffering they were witnessing. Even though there was not a happy ending that day, they waited and even, in their sorrow, prepared his body for burial.

We do know, for those of us who believe, that there is a promised victorious day coming because of the cross and resurrection. He is now alive to “abide” with us, to be present when there is overwhelming sorrow.  We are promised in Lamentations 3

“I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.  Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”

Christina’s World, Andrew Wyeth, Tempera on panel, 32 1/4 x 47 3/4″ (81.9 x 121.3 cm)

We belong to Him. He is with us in our pain, if we seek His presence and abide and wait with Him. When people we know are suffering, we can be present with them, just like Jesus is with us. He was a “man of sorrows familiar with pain” (Isaiah 53:3).  This Good Friday His presence is with us in our disappointment.  We do have hope as we wait; Our Resurrected King will wipe away every tear from our eyes; and there will no longer be death; there will no longer be sorrow and anguish, or crying, or pain; for the former order of things has passed away.” Rev 21:4

This song says it better than I can:

Blessing and Honor to the King of Kings!

Love,
Pam

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