(The graphic above was taken from the cover image of A Man Like No Other, art by Murry Whiteman with text by Wayne Jacobsen and Brad Cummings)
It’s hard to imagine that these words would describe the most authentic personification of love to ever live on this planet, but this is how Isaiah foretold it:
“He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces, he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. (Isaiah 53:3)
The fullness of God’s love was despised and rejected by many who knew him. Incredibly sad!
Jesus often talked about joy, and he wanted his joy to be in us so that our joy would be complete. Nevertheless, he also felt the pain of a fallen Creation and suffered from it himself. Even loving to the full, that love proved disquieting to the agenda of many, and thus he knew the undeserved rejection of those he loved. When I think of Jesus and suffering, I’m so immediately drawn to the events of his Passion that I skip over the pain he held each day while he was here, much less the pain he and his Father have held since Creation’s fall.
Only recently (for reasons I’ll share in the future) has my heart become attuned to the agony of God that beats through the cosmos beneath the strains of the joy and victory of his redemption. Oh, he will win, and one day the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdom of our God and of his Son. I can hardly imagine what that day will be like! Until then, God’s joy is also accompanied by undertones of anguish that he feels for the lingering injustices of humanity, the war and conflicts that devastate countries and destroy friendships and families, the sexual abuse of powerless victims, the despair of suicide and its impact on loved ones, malnourished bodies, natural disasters, and the betrayal and greed some trade on to the exploitation of others.
The writer of Hebrews told us that Jesus’s agony went beyond the crucifixion and was laced throughout his days. “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears…” This was more than Gethsemane; this seems to be a regular undertone to his life and may well explain his weeping at the tomb of Lazarus and his anguish in Gethsemane. It certainly was not for the loss of his friend whom he would momentarily raise from the dead, but for death and suffering in the cosmos itself. And if so, he may still carry that agony of a lover for the wounds of his beloved.
Redemption was always in sight, but that did not mitigate his empathy for the wounds of his Creation. The Redeemer comes to our rescue with tears in his eyes, and an ache in his heart for all that “fallenness” has done to us. And when redemption happens, his ecstasy overwhelms his agony. For those of us living before the days of the restoration of Creation, we taste that agony as well in what we suffer and what we behold in others. So when I hear of the devastation of earthquakes in Syria or Turkey, starvation throughout East Africa, needless destruction in Ukraine, or delusion throughout the West, I have a place to put that now. I can hold the world’s pain with God in the hope of a victory yet to come. It has changed the way I pray and the way I walk with others through their own difficulties. You’ll hear more about that in future articles here.
For now, it is enough to be reminded that those who love deeply will hurt deeply. Every lingering pain can be a reminder of the as-yet unredeemed Creation and a touchstone with God’s passion for redemption. When we hurt with others, we are reminded that God bears our pain as well. When we are rejected by people we love, we find comfort that God knows that too. Jesus knows that all too well. Sharing my pain with him as he shares his with me is also part of living loved.
You cannot love and avoid pain. Love allows you to sit in the suffering, your own or someone you care about, and watch for how God moves redemptively. If you run from pain, you’ll find yourself often running from love, and, ultimately, from God. If you can embrace the reality of God-with-you in your suffering, then it will not consume you. It will also allow you to see more easily his way forward until ecstasy triumphs over agony.
Other Items of Note
- Our next Wrestling with Trauma conversation will be Sunday, February 26, at 10:00 am. PST. Email Wayne if you’d like to join a small group to provide a place for people to explore their trauma or to find ways to help others they love deal with trauma
- The next Jake Colsen Book Club session will be held Saturday, March 4, at 1:30 pm PST. You’ll have to work that out in your own time zone. We will explore Chapter 10: Won to Trust, as we consider how Jesus teaches us to trust him and what he wants for us, rather than trying to get him to give us the outcomes we want for ourselves. We will stream it live on my Facebook Author Page, but if you want to be part of the conversation, you can get a link to the Zoom Room by emailing Wayne and asking for it.
4 thoughts on “The Man of Sorrows”
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This is brilliant – thank you Wayne – the agony and the ecstacy is so well portraid here. This is not a hopeless agony for it is God’s agony – the agony of love. The kind of agony that one opens yourself to experience when you dare to be vulnerable at all cost – even to give your life for your friends.
I think the vulnerability of love is the one thing we fear most of all. To reveal all and then to find that your all is rejected, is a frightening thought. Could that be what Jesus referred to when he said, “Unless you take up your cross every day and follow me you can’t be my disciple?
Allow this quote from Richard Rohr please: “Did you ever imagine that what we call “vulnerability” might just be the key to ongoing growth? In my experience, healthily vulnerable people use every occasion to expand, change, and grow. Yet it is a risky position to live undefended, in a kind of constant openness to the other – because it would mean others could sometimes actually wound you (from vulnus, “wound”). But only if we choose to take this risk do we also allow the exact opposite possibility: the other might also gift you, free you, and even love you.
But it is a felt risk every time.
Could I please post this on contemplatively.org?
Thanks for your comment, Stephan. I love the perspective you add to this. Vulnerability is clearly the key to growth, but it also means people you love will reject you and perhaps even exploit your honesty. But I encourage people to risk only what you can only endure. Your effectiveness will will grow as the range of your vulnerability grows. But in the early stages find people who can entrust your heart to, and learn by opening up a bit a time and see how they handle it. No sense in feeding pearls to swine, which only does greater damage to them.
And, yes, you may repost it…
I agree with you Wayne. Learning to be vulnerable is a life long experience. Some of us have issues where we were deeply wounded in childhood and continue to recover to this day. To open oneself up to further injury to existing wounds is not a wise choice for everyone. We are instructed to pray ” Lead us not into temptation”.