One of the realities of our human existence is the presence of suffering in life. It is the personal suffering we might have in our own lives. It is also what touches us in the suffering of loved ones. Beyond what we experience in our own lives directly, we all know that we live in a global community that is constantly facing the challenge of a suffering in which we feel so helpless. War, poverty, natural disasters, injustice, inequalities, violence, these all bring suffering to our world and its people.
There is a question that is often asked in the light of this constant theme of suffering in our humanity. In the midst of the suffering that we face personally and that we see around us in the global community – where is God?
This weekend is Passion Sunday. As do every year at the beginning of Holy Week, we listen to Mark’s telling of the story of Jesus’ passion and death. It is here perhaps that we discover something of a response to that question, “Where is God?” In the face of the suffering we face personally and globally the answer we are seeking is often directed at how God will make things better – how God will intervene and heal our threatening illness or prevent the suffering of a loved one. We are asking why God did not intervene to avoid the destruction and death that came from a hurricane or a flood. We ask why God allows the injustice and the violence and inequalities that seem so prevalent in our world.
Listening to the story of the Passion of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel one of the most poignant images we are given is Jesus, on the cross, looking to heaven and crying out: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” On the cross, Jesus expresses the desolation he experiences through these words from the Old Testament Psalm 22. Of all the suffering that is part of the passion story the most painful is Jesus’ sense of being forsaken by all, by his friends and disciples and even by his Father-God. In the passion story, Jesus faces the suffering totally alone.
Is this isolation the real pain of all of our human suffering? Are we ever really alone in our suffering? Perhaps the fuller story of the Good News of God is that in suffering we are never totally alone. God may not prevent or cure or take away our suffering or that of humanity. But the Incarnation, our faith that God in Jesus joins and shares our humanity, is the response to the question: “Where is God?” On the cross, the Father-God remains with Jesus and the story of the passion reveals this in the resurrection.
In the midst of suffering, “Where is God? Through the Incarnation God sends the Son to live among us, to share our humanity, to be like us in all things, even our suffering. God does not intervene, but God does stand with us, all of us, in all suffering. We are never alone. God does not abandon us. In the presence of Jesus, even sharing our suffering humanity, God stands in solidarity with every human being. St. Paul grasped this wonder of God’s love constantly with us to comfort and to console. He expressed it to the little community of Christians in the town of Philippi so many centuries ago:
Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality
with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the
form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in
human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point
of death – even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6-8)