Wednesday, December 29, 2010

God Is No Stranger to Our Suffering

“Then I will pour out the Spirit of grace and prayer on the family of David and on the people of Jerusalem. They will look on me whom they have pierced and mourn for him as for an only son. They will grieve bitterly for him as for a firstborn son who has died.”

~Zechariah 12:10 (NLT).

As I skimmed through the pages of Zechariah the word “pierced” struck my eye and compelled me into an excursus from what I was doing. My first thought was Jesus, and from Minor Prophet to Major:

“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”

~Isaiah 53:5 (NIV, 2010).

The Suffering Servant, Grace and Messages of the End

This prophetic word of Isaiah—allusions of the Suffering Servant—is commonly claimed, at least in Christian circles, to refer to Christ’s sufferings. Indeed, we struggle to see any meaning in it other than the theological utterance of Jesus’ final day.

So, if we agree, God can ‘suffer’ in these ways. But this doesn’t help us much in our sufferings. Or does it? At first glance, there’s something weird going on between the terms “They will look on me” and “mourn for him” in the same sentence. It doesn’t read right. Oh yes it does. It reads how it’s supposed to be read.

In Zechariah’s context, “it is not the hostile nations that have pierced Yahweh.”[1] We think back to Jesus and we know how this ends. It was Jesus’ own kind—the Jews—that had him pierced. And as sinners, we did it.

Can it just be that God has authored suffering? Is it perhaps the most rarefied message to us; the Lord has ushered the beginning of the end this very way?

Certainly as the reader follows on through Zechariah 12 and into chapter 13, there’s not only matters of redemption and restoration for the “family of David,” but finality too. Suffering is the sign for the beginning of it—not ours, but God’s. And our suffering, if there is such a thing (in this context), is via the mourning of our spirits; we have killed our Saviour.

But grace carries us far past this rocking reality; we, the presumed remnant (Zechariah 13:8-9).

The Manifestation of Our Truest Suffering

Have we suffered anything like the mourning held deeply in the thought of having cast our firstborn onto a fire? In a shrieking revelation we fall upon the story of Abraham’s near-sacrificing of Isaac (Genesis 22:1-19).

The Lamb of God was not to be Isaac all; but Jesus. God saved Abraham the pain, just as the Lord’s saved us from the pain of sacrificing our own. But the truest suffering is to know the depth of hurt in considering Jesus’ suffering at the very hand of our sin—the piercing of his physical and Spiritual ‘flesh’.

And that is worship—the most accurate manifestation—to know our role in this suffering and the perplexing enormity of God’s respondent grace. This is to comprehend even the commencement of the truth; that God has suffered far more than we can begin to envisage. We are saved from the magnitude of this suffering, because God bore it on himself.

If this is the truth—and it resounds eternally through biblical theology—then God knows more intimately about our suffering than we will ever know.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

Graphic Credit: Photograph by Jerry Worster. Sourced from: Jerry Worster’s Flickr page:

[1] Thomas E. McComiskey, The Minor Prophets: Zechariah – An Exegetical & Expository Commentary (Vol. 3) (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1998), p. 1214.

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