Did Jesus really suffer?
Last Sunday, here at the Chapel, David Weber said that the purpose of Holy Week in the Christian calendar is “to induce in us a kind of amnesia, repressing our anticipation of the resurrection, so we experience resignation.”
The idea is that if we know how the story ends, we skip the hard stuff on our way to Easter Sunday. I think he’s right, especially if we hope to have some sort of experienced or emotional connection in the course of our collective remembering of the week of Christ’s sacrifice. (Though the love of God that comes to us in Jesus is provided for all people, the emotionally attuned and the emotionally oblivious alike.)
This question of our own foreknowledge during Holy Week brings to my mind the question of the nature of the foreknowledge of Jesus himself. As someone asked me once, “If Jesus knows all along that everything is going to turn out all right, doesn’t that make Good Friday into some sort of act?” This point of view would suggest that the suffering of Jesus and his obedience to that suffering is of less value (or less heroic) than the suffering of someone like the biblical Job because unlike Job, Jesus suffers while certain of a good outcome while Job can only hope for his restoration.
Some have tried to address this problem of Jesus’ privileged knowledge by arguing that Jesus doesn’t possess it, having emptied himself of his divine qualities when becoming human. The idea is that Jesus, in order to be human, sets aside divine power which presumably includes any knowledge of life on the other side of the cross. It’s a tempting idea, because it seems to solve a problem and seems to make Jesus’ suffering more relatable to our own – after all, when we’re going through tough times, we never really know how things are really going to turn out.
Such a description of Jesus, however, gives up more than it gains. First off, the idea of a human Jesus without access to divine power makes any of the miracles a hard sell. Equally critically, however, is that by taking this description of Jesus, we lose hold of the critically wondrous nature of the salvation story. It’s not that Jesus empties himself of his divinity and divine power, but rather that Jesus the God-(Hu)man is emptied of all power. God the almighty power by whom all things are made is completely undone by the criminal’s death on the cross. At that point, nobody knows what will happen next. Or more accurately, we think we know – everything is a bust.
Jesus’ “emptying” is best understood as the humiliating choice of the God-Human who has the opportunity to use his privilege for his own benefit but chooses not to. Instead he keeps solidarity with all creation which is powerless in the face of death.
Our attempts to fully understand the way the death of Jesus “works” inevitably fail with the limits of human language.
What we’re left with is ancient poetic assertion:
… Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God,
did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,
being born in the likeness of men.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Therefore God has highly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Peace and joy,
April 12, 2017
Rev. James A. Wetzstein serves as one of our university pastors at Valpo and takes turns writing weekly reflections.
- Archives of Devotional Writings from our Pastoral Staff
- “Some Lent!”
- (Your vocation here) of people
- A Point of Privilege
- A season of anticipation
- Advent = Hope
- All will be well
- Are we willing to cross the road for one another?
- Better Together
- Can we learn to be happy?
- Carrying the COVID Cross
- Come and See
- Did Jesus really suffer?
- Doing without in a life of plenty
- Don’t miss this moment
- Exiles with Vision
- Fear not!
- Feeling at Home
- Finding Purpose in the Journey
- Finding Words for Times Like These
- Forgiving others – and ourselves
- Getting ahead with Jesus
- Getting down on Jesus’ level
- Have yourself a merry little Christmas — somehow
- Holy Week and Taking Out the Trash
- Holy Week: The aid station late in the semester
- Hopes & Dreams vs Life in the Wilderness
- How glad we’ll be if it’s so
- I almost slipped
- In a time of uncertainty, these things are certain
- In praise of plans B … C … D …
- In Praise of Skeptical Disciples
- In the midst of grief, God will bring life
- Is there such a thing as being too forgiving?
- It’s a Three Day Weekend!
- It’s In the Bag
- It’s What’s Happening
- Killing off our future selves
- Lessons in fire building
- Let us work for real wellness in our communities
- Life Is a Highway
- Lilies and leaves and whatever else is beautiful
- Living in the Present
- O Lord, you know I hate buttermilk
- Of Fear and Failure
- On Christian Unity: When we’re not one big happy church
- On the Bucket List
- Pray and Let God Worry
- Preparing for the world to be turned rightside up
- Recovering from an Epic Fail
- Reformation calls for examination
- Remembering among the forgetful
- Seeing beauty in brokenness
- Signs of Love
- Starting Small
- Still in the storm
- Taking a Break from the Relentless
- Talking ourselves into it
- Thankfulness leads to joyfulness
- The Art of Holy Week
- The Funny Business of Forgiveness
- The Greatest of These is Love
- The Magi: Exemplars of Faith and Learning
- The Power of Small Conversations
- The Power of Taking a Sabbath
- The Spiritual Gift of Hindsight
- This can’t be done alone
- To be known
- You will be in our prayers this summer of 2020
- Ventures of which we cannot see the ending
- We had hoped
- What do you do with your anger?
- What is your base reality?
- What to do after you find your voice
- What to do on the day after
- What we know and what we don’t know
- When bad things happen
- When joy and sadness live together
- When the promise of resurrection is hard to believe
- When you offer up your broken cup
- Where God will be found
- Where is the good shepherd carrying you?
- Wilderness Journeys
- Year-end time management: Keeping the main thing the main thing
- Your Valpo roots will help you grow into your future