At Our Side?

All sufferers can find comfort in the solidarity of the Crucified; but only those who struggle against evil by following the example of the Crucified will discover him at their side. To claim the comfort of the Crucified while rejecting his way is to advocate not only cheap grace but a deceitful ideology.”

(Miroslav Volf, Exclusion & Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation)

The cross is an incarnate symbol of God’s solidarity and compassion for this world and especially for all those who suffer. For two thousand years, people have found solace and companionship in a Jesus who knows and has experienced pain, rejection, and misunderstanding. In the midst of all kinds of agony, we need to know that someone understands our lot in life and sense of isolation.

I believe that God is aware of every tear that falls, every hope that is crushed on the hard rocks of life, and every tinge of pain regardless of the cause of those unfortunate circumstances. A God with an eye even on the sparrow which falls is a God who certainly knows our frame. Much suffering we endure can be traced to our own sinful choices and foolishness. Rather than condemning us in our misery, the God of compassion suffers with us and seeks to heal us from our misdirected paths. She is with us even when we must “walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” although we may not be aware of such a presence. 

In the quote above, Volf maintains that “only those who struggle against evil by following the example of the Crucified will discover him at their side.” How can that be if God is with all those who suffer? Perhaps the answer to such a query is simply this: the issue is not whether God is by the side of all who suffer—the issue is whether we are by and on God’s side in the midst of suffering caused by evil, injustice, and violence. The focus here is not on what God can do for us but what we can do for God and those God loves. 

There is a special relationship between God and those who love as God loves–a unique understanding, a deep solidarity, a shared concern. When we “take up our cross and follow Jesus” in the struggle against evil and injustice, we join him in bearing the cost of mending this world. There is a maturity, depth, and mutuality about this kind of suffering which only those who experience it can understand. Those who know such solidarity are never presumptuous or arrogant about such an identity. They rejoice that they can be a part of a grace which heals and makes whole even though the cost for such an effort involves pain and misunderstanding. No one wants to suffer. Jesus’ agony in the garden of Gethsemane demonstrates that he did not want to suffer. However, those who have experienced God’s love and passion for justice are willing to pay the price of speaking truth in a world which prefers lies and of loving this world into its healing and liberation from all which would desecrate and squelch life. 

The cross we bear in following Jesus is the price we pay for being faithful to the way of Jesus. As Albert Schweitzer said, “He speaks to us the same words: ‘Follow thou me!’ and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.” The Quest of the Historical Jesus

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