We finally get a break from the darkness, don’t we? Spring time is the season that Christians around the world celebrate Easter, or as I prefer to call it “The Feast of the Resurrection.” After suffering a humiliating death, Jesus of Nazareth is raised from the dead. We have a lot of hopes and poems that go with this event, as we should… this event is almost euphoric, but what does it have to do with Theodicy? Absolutely nothing if one has not suffered. I think the Gospel stories show that for those who have not suffered, or who have run from suffering, this Resurrection is simply a wonderful fairytale; a hope that their ego will be perpetuated throughout eternity. Only to the broken, to the oppressed, to those who Jesus brought good news will the Resurrection be any true light of hope. The Resurrection is only really significant to those who have suffered; to the prosperous it is bad news. Let’s look at some stories.
The First Witnesses
All the Gospel accounts agree the first persons to see the Resurrected Jesus are the ones who stood by him during his crucifixion, the women. The women did not abandon him, they were present in his suffering, and so were the first to see and recognize him. Mary Magdalene in John’s Gospel is the one to recognize Jesus and tell the rest of the disciples. She is known in the Eastern Church as an “apostle to the apostles,” for she was the first witness to Jesus being raised from the dead.
Those who did not suffer with Jesus have a more difficult time recognizing him in the stories. Take the gentlemen on the Emmaus Road for example. Jesus walks with them for quite a bit, but they do not recognize him. They are caught up in their own worlds, their own disappointments. Once the gentlemen and Jesus get to Emmaus, Jesus is about to walk off, but the gentlemen insist on providing hospitality to the stranger and invite him to dinner. Jesus accepts the invitation. It is at the table, the sharing of a meal (an intimate act), they finally recognize Jesus for who he is. They did not recognize the Risen Jesus by sharing suffering, but through welcoming and sharing a meal with the stranger. Let this be a word to “Prosperity Gospel” Christians… if you insist on NOT suffering, you better damn well welcome the stranger into your lives showing radical hospitality. If you do neither, you will have no part in the Risen Lord.
The Difficulty of Good News to Those Who Do Not Suffer
In the Gospel of John we have the famous story of “Doubting Thomas,” but in Luke’s Gospel the rest of the disciples don’t fare any better. Or I should say the “men” don’t fare any better. Remember it was the men who abandoned Jesus, they did not stand by his side to suffer with him as the women did. They were not present in his suffering. So in the Gospel of Luke when Jesus appears to them they don’t believe it. “We are seeing a ghost,” they say to themselves. Mind you, the women who witnessed the Resurrection had already told them Jesus had risen… but they still could not believe. So they have to see and touch his wounds; they still don’t believe. Then they give him something to eat to convince themselves more. Finally, they are convinced. Thomas probably heard this display, and made his demand “I will not believe unless I put my hands in his wounds.” Whether they like it or not, they are going to have to recognize Jesus’ suffering before they can believe in his Resurrection. But why the doubt? Well, it is an outrageous story. But, I am not convinced that is what we are being taught in these stories. Surely they saw the miracles; they ought to be open to the miraculous. The persistent theme appears to be that those who suffer are able to receive the Good News, those who run away from suffering will not get it; they will refuse to believe, or worse… they simply are unable to believe. Or perhaps worse still, they will pervert the story or change its emphasis and meaning to such an extent that they can justify not suffering, and ignoring the suffering of others.
There is Something Different about You Jesus
But what about Jesus? I mean, certainly we don’t believe that it can all go back to the way it was before the gruesome ordeal. After suffering abandonment, humiliation, immense pain, despair, and death… that will leave its mark. And it does. Jesus seems well healed, but he still has the marks. And what of the men on the road to Emmaus. They seemed to know who Jesus was; why were they so upset he had been killed if they had not known him? Yet, they do not recognize him now. Something has changed Jesus enough to make him unrecognizable. Suffering and brokenness can do that; more so if one gets through it healed (but with scars).
What the Gospels teach us about suffering and the Resurrected Jesus is that something has changed in who he is. He is the “same, but different.” Something has changed him… and the only thing between the Last Supper and this moment was His Passion and Death.
The Good News?
In the Resurrection of Jesus we see a story that declares suffering and evil do not have the final word, and that certainly is hopeful. The Christian believes that death is not the end; defeat in pain is not how the story will end. Death is real, but so is Resurrection. Is death conquered? Obviously not, simply look around, but death does lose its sting; the power/fear of death is nullified. The suffering Christian no longer has a fear of death, and in that there is the perfect freedom to love, which means the perfect freedom to obey the Mandate of Jesus. There is something that endures through pain, that transcends suffering… and in Jesus we are given a promise God will raise that up on the last day.
In the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus, we see that there is Good News indeed, but only to those who suffer (and/or those who suffer with others). For Jesus, the suffering of the cross was the gateway to the glory of the Resurrection. For us, our own suffering and trauma can be a gateway to God’s glory, but how? Because somehow in pain and suffering we are able to see the proper relationship between us and God in a distilled way. An awareness of Absolute Powerlessness is the first step to Surrender to God.
For the women who suffered with Jesus during his crucifixion, that brave and compassionate act prepared them to be the first witnesses to the Resurrection. In experiencing other people’s pain or our own we prepare ourselves for Resurrection, and for new life because we come critically aware of our own mortality, and our own limits. We are on the path to dying to self, dying to sin, so that we may be made alive in a different way. Perhaps it is better to say in suffering, we prepare ourselves for a new altered vision and understanding of Creation. But to those who refuse to suffer, who evade it, who trample others to run away from it, the Resurrection is meaningless. In fact, it should be terrifying. Resurrection does not deny death… we all will die. We all will experience that moment where we will have nothing to cling to but the will of the Creator for our continued existence. To some that will be wonderful; to other’s terrifying. And not because they don’t believe in God, but because they never suffered enough, never surrendered enough, and so never trusted enough in the abundant goodness of God in the face of their extinction.
So… Alleluia! Christ is Risen! Glory to God in the Highest and peace to you who suffer, to those who are oppressed, to those who grieve, to those who are poor or sick, to those who know death! This is your day of Victory! It appears you are the precious ones of God, and with you He shows particular care and favor. God is with you now… and will see you through to the end.
Next, I will expand this further. In the light of Jesus’ life, death and Resurrection I will finally answer “What is a Christian Approach to Suffering and Evil?”