Think not thou canst sigh a sigh
And thy Maker is not by;
Think not thou canst weep a tear
And thy Maker is not near.
O! He gives to us His joy
That our griefs He may destroy;
Till our grief is fled and gone
He doth sit by us and moan.
The movie Forrest Gump contains a heartwrenching scene where five-year-old Jenny, Forrest's friend, prays as the two of them are running into a cornfield to hide from her drunken father: "Dear God, make me a bird so I can fly far, far away from here."
Her father had been sexually abusing her, and although the next day he was arrested and Jenny went to live with someone else, her struggles over what he did to her had only begun. In fact, she spends the rest of her life trying to recover from the damage.
Years later, Jenny returns to the small town where she grew up to visit Forrest. The two of them, now adults in their thirties, are walking near the abandoned shack where she once lived. As she fixes her eyes on it, painful buried memories of the abuse flood her mind.
She bursts into tears and begins to vent her hurt and anger by picking up the rocks around her and throwing them as hard as she can at the shack. When there are no more rocks, she takes off her shoes and throws them too. Finally, she falls to the ground sobbing.
As Forrest reflects on the scene he says, "Sometimes I guess there just aren't enough rocks."
As you consider the hurt and pain in your life, do you find yourself resonating with what Forrest said? Perhaps you were verbally, physically or sexually abused, experienced the wrenching pain of a divorce, grew up in a chaotic home with an alcoholic parent, or lost a loved one in a senseless accident. Maybe you have been deeply hurt in a relationship or have felt the aching loneliness of abandonment. Were you born with a physical handicap or ridiculed as a child by siblings and other children? Could it be that you were treated unfairly in a work situation or betrayed by people in your church?
Like Jenny, deep-seated pain and anger may still fester in your heart. At times you may find yourself shaking a clenched fist toward heaven as a raging voice within cries out, God, it isn't fair! It's not right. What did I do to deserve this? We agree with Forrest Gump: "Sometimes there just aren't enough rocks."
Over the years, as bruised and broken people have shared their wrenching stories with me, the inner voice of the Spirit has prompted me to offer them a special invitation: "Come with me. Come with me to Calvary. Come stand beneath the cross of Jesus. Gaze with me at the twisted, tortured figure hanging there. Consider the broken, bleeding Son of God. Reflect on your hurts and wounds in the light of his."
During eleven years as a pastor, I frequently preached about the cross. When I was a doctoral student in theology, I chose the doctrine of the atonement for one of my comprehensive exams. As a seminary professor of Christian doctrine since 1983, I have taught about the cross every semester in classes such as "Basic Christian Theology" and "The Person and Work of Christ." So I have had a lifelong interest in the cross of Christ.
But in the early 1990s, as a result of several personal experiences and my growing involvement in what I can best describe as a ministry of healing prayer to persons with emotional and spiritual needs, I began to witness firsthand the power of the cross in ways I had never imagined. As I have counseled and prayed with people, and together we have surveyed the wondrous cross, I have been stunned and awed by its power to heal painful hurts. Isaiah was surely right: by his wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:5). His nail-scarred hands truly are able to bind up the brokenhearted and loose the chains of those who are bound.
Although I have written from the perspective of a pastoral theologian, not that of a counselor, my prayer is that if you are a person who needs to experience emotional and spiritual healing, this book will help you bring your hurts to the foot of the cross. If you are a professional Christian counselor, pastor, lay counselor or someone who engages in a ministry of healing prayer, I also pray it will further equip you so that you can bring your clients or those to whom you minister to the cross. Finally, if you are a believer desiring to grow in your understanding of the cross or an inquirer seeking to learn about the Christian faith, I pray that considering the cross and its relation to human hurts will cause you to grasp its wonder-working power as never before.
Make no mistake. Bringing our hurts to the cross is not simply praying a few bold prayers for healing that will automatically solve everything. The cross demonstrates that for the complex problem of evil and suffering there is no simplistic, quick-fix method of restoration and healing—even for God.
Jesus' crucified body was resurrected and glorified, but he still bore the scars from his wounds. In fact, they have become his identifying marks (John 20:20-29). Songwriter Michael Card says Jesus is "known by the scars." And it will always be that way. His scars are permanent—they are eternal scars. When the apostle John looked in his heavenly vision to see who would open the sealed scroll revealing the final course of history, he saw "a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered" (Revelation 5:6). Such was the price that Jesus, the Lamb of God (John 1:29), paid and the long-term commitment that God made for our restoration and healing.
Bringing our hurts to the cross, then, is not a quick-fix method of healing. Deep wounds require deep healing. And deep healing involves a slow and difficult process. Like peeling an onion, it generally happens one tearful layer at a time. The process may be punctuated with major breakthroughs; nonetheless, it is long and arduous. Three steps forward are sometimes followed by two steps backward. It requires courage and determination—often more than we alone can muster. Without the encouragement and strength Jesus imparts to us, we would be unable to finish the journey.
Still, there is nothing more therapeutic than bringing our hurts to the cross of Christ. The cross illumines our hurts. It sheds light on them. It gives us a different perspective from which to view them. Refrained with wood from Calvary's cross, our painful memory pictures look different.
But the cross not only illumines our hurts, it also heals and transforms them as expressed in "At the Cross," a beautiful praise song written by Randy and Terry Butler:
I know a place, a wonderful place
Where accused and condemned
Find mercy and grace
Where the wrongs we have done
And the wrongs done to us
Were nailed there with him
There on the cross
At the cross (At the cross)
He died for our sin
At the cross (At the cross)
He gave us life again
How wonderfully true! The cross is "a place, a wonderful place" where there is "mercy and grace" for those who have been "accused and condemned" and deeply wounded. What healing grace and power there is in his nail-scarred hands! At the cross he ministers to our wounds by touching them with his.
On the one hand, bringing our hurts and wounds to the cross is quite simple. As hymn writer Fanny Crosby puts it, "Free to all, a healing stream, Flows from Calv'ry's mountain." And as the praise song says, the cross is "where accused and condemned find mercy and grace." It is the place of forgiveness and healing, deliverance and freedom, mercy and grace. By his wounds we are healed.
On the other hand, bringing our hurts to the cross is complex. In reaction to our wounds, we have erected protective structures to avoid dealing with them or allowing anyone to touch them. We have believed lies that God doesn't care—at least, not about us—and doesn't want to heal our wounds. Resentment and bitterness toward our offenders may be simmering in our hearts. Unhealthy responses and destructive habits precipitated by our emotional pain have become comfortable. To come to the cross, we must confront and deal with these issues.
To bring our wounds to the foot of the cross, we have to walk the road to the cross and choose the way of the cross. As we shall discover, this means choosing the way of acceptance rather than denial, confronting instead of concealing. It also means choosing costly forgiveness over resentment and bearing unjust suffering over retaliation.
The road we must travel is indeed less traveled—a rough, risky road, not a smooth, safe superhighway. To step onto that road is one thing; to walk that road until we arrive at the foot of the cross is another. Sometimes after our first flush of enthusiasm for the journey, we want to turn back. The road appears too rugged, the goal too distant. The ascent up the hill called Mount Calvary is steeper than we imagined, the effort more costly.
Often we will falter, but as we patiently press on we make a joyful discovery: not only is there mercy and grace when we finally get to the cross, it is there all along the way. From the moment we take our first step on that road to the moment we experience deep healing at the foot of the cross, we are never alone. Jesus walks before us, leading the way. Step into any dark, unknown place—his nail-scarred footprints are already there. Better still, Jesus walks alongside us, encouraging our spirits. The further we journey, the more we discover the depth of his affection and tenderness toward us. Jesus also walks behind us holding us up when our knees wobble. We can lean on him, for his strength is perfectly tailored to our weaknesses. And because God's mercy and grace accompany us, we receive courage and determination to stay on the road and continue the journey.
What is involved in bringing our hurts to the cross? What are the stopping points along the way, the stations along the Via Dolorosa? And why is the cross such a powerful instrument for healing?
In the chapters that follow, we will explore those questions in detail, particularly in relation to emotional healing. With our zoom lens, in chapters two through six, we will narrow and intensify our focus to see how the cross addresses destructive effects of human hurts such as rejection, shame, disappointment with God, addictions and demonization. Then in chapters seven through ten, we will consider what the cross tells us about how healing happens, as we think about embracing our pain, forgiving those who have wronged us, loving our enemies and offering our wounds to God.
But in the rest of this chapter, let's put emotional suffering in a broader context. Using a wide-angle lens, we want to consider how the cross addresses human suffering in general, especially the problem it raises for faith in God.
From the ancient book of Job to Rabbi Harold Kushner's recent bestseller When Bad Things Happen to Good People, people everywhere have wrestled with how an all-powerful and all-loving God can allow so much suffering—especially unjust suffering—to exist in the world.
In Dostoyevsky's great novel The Brothers Karamazov, the child of a poor Russian serf, while playing one day, accidentally hits one of his master's prize hunting dogs with a stone. When he finds out about it, the master is enraged. He has the boy seized and, turning his vicious dogs loose, forces the boy's mother to watch as they tear her son to pieces.
When Ivan, one of the main characters in the story, hears about what the master has done, he shakes his head in disbelief. Then after a long reflection on how a good and righteous God could possibly allow such a thing to happen, he concludes, "It's not God that I cannot accept.... I accept God, understand that, but I cannot accept the world that He has made."
We too echo Ivan's bewilderment as we confront the cruelty of such unjust suffering. Disturbing, perplexing thoughts arise in our minds, creating unwanted challenges to our faith.
How does the cross shed light on this critical problem? How can it speak to us as we struggle to believe in God's power and goodness in the face of unjust suffering? In no uncertain terms, the cross tells us that God in Christ is one with us in our suffering. When we suffer, God doesn't stand off, aloof and unconcerned, unable or unwilling to get involved. Jesus, the Eternal Word of God, has "become flesh and lived among us" (John 1:14). He is Emmanuel, which means God with us (Matthew 1:23); and at the cross, the depth of his involvement with us is fully revealed.
On the cross, Jesus personally experienced the full range of human suffering. Pastoral theologian Frank Lake puts it like this: "It is an astonishing fact that the events of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ portray every variety of human suffering and evil." He points out that on the cross Jesus suffered injustice, felt the shame of nakedness, was deprived of his rights, endured taunting, was the focus of others' rage, and was rejected and forsaken. He also endured excruciating physical pain, thirst, hunger, emptiness, torment, confusion and finally, death itself. Lake expresses it so beautifully:
Christ's own being on the Cross contained all the clashing contrarities and scandalous fates of human existence. Life Himself was identified with death; the Light of the world was enveloped in darkness. The feet of the Man who said, "I am the Way" feared to tread upon it and prayed, "If it be possible, not that way." The Water of Life was thirsty. The Bread of Life was hungry. The divine Lawgiver was Himself unjustly outlawed. The Holy One was identified with the unholy. The Lion of Judah was crucified as a lamb. The hands that made the world and raised the dead were fixed by nails until they were rigid in death. Men's hope of heaven descended into hell.
This means Jesus can truly identify with us when we suffer because he has personally experienced the breadth and the depth of human suffering. In the New Testament book of Hebrews we read that he is a faithful high priest because he "learned obedience through what he suffered" (5:8) and was made "perfect through sufferings" (2:10). Because he has been "touched with the feelings of our infirmities" (4:15 KJV), he can empathetically identify with our distress.
But not only did Jesus suffer personally on the cross; he also suffered vicariously. In the words of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, he is not only "a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief" but "surely he has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows" (53:4 NKJV, emphasis added). In his classic commentary, Franz Delitzsch states that in this verse "the meaning is not merely that the Servant of God entered into the fellowship of our sufferings, but that He took upon Himself the sufferings which we had to bear and deserved to bear, and therefore not only took them away... but bore them in His own person, that He might deliver us from them." On the cross, then, Jesus bore not only his own suffering but, in some mysterious way, yours, mine and the suffering of the whole world as well. As Karl Stern, the eminent Jewish psychiatrist who saw friends and family dragged away to torture and death in Nazi concentration camps, and who converted to Christianity after World War II, expresses so forcefully:
There is something extraordinary in the suffering of Christ. It seems to include all human suffering.... The more you dwell on it, the more it becomes clear that in His agony He anticipated the hidden agonies of innumerable individuals.... It anticipates, it contains your life and my life in a singular way.
When we first heard the good news of salvation, most of us were likely told that Christ died for our sins. In Isaiah's unforgettable words, "He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities" and "the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:5-6 NKJV). Scripture underscores this wonderful truth again and again. As Peter puts it, "He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross" (1 Peter 2:24).
However, we also need to stress that on the cross he bore our sufferings as well. The bad news is that we are both sinners and sufferers, villains and victims; the good news is that the cross addresses both conditions. The writers of the praise song quoted earlier rightly grasp this. Notice that both
The wrongs we have done [sinners]
And the wrongs done to us [sufferers]
Were nailed there with him
There on the cross.
This means that Christ not only identifies with us completely in our suffering because he has had an experience like ours, he also participates in our suffering because our very own experience of suffering has mysteriously been laid upon him.
Several days after I had explained this truth to a woman who as a child had been subjected to ritual acts of sexual abuse by a group of men, she sent me an e-mail describing its powerful impact on her:
I keep turning your thought over and over in my mind—that Jesus wasn't just there, he experienced the same abuse and degradation I did.... The men who used me in their rituals were not just engaged in ordinary, run-of-the-mill evil, focused on just the victim and their own gratification; instead, they were actively working against the Lord of Light and Life, and they knew that's what they were doing... yet Christ chose to experience those things anyway, all for my sake. The idea is so enormous, so incredible, I know I haven't begun to take it in. Yes, he died for me, and that was his ultimate gift, but somehow this hits far closer to home.... Jesus was there, and Jesus experienced it all. He didn't just watch, and say, "There, there," or even "I love you." Jesus experienced it all.
But not only did Jesus experience it all, bearing our suffering as he hung on the cross; God the Father, through his Son, experienced it too. George Buttrick, a great twentieth-century preacher, tells about a painting of the crucifixion that hangs in an Italian church. At first glance, it appears to be like most paintings of the crucifixion, but on closer examination, one perceives that "there's a vast and shadowy figure behind the figure of Jesus. The nail that pierces the hand of Jesus goes through the hand of God. The spear thrust into the side of Jesus goes through into God's." As the apostle Paul says, "God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself" (2 Corinthians 5:19 NKJV).
Of course, knowing that God suffers with us doesn't make our pain disappear or explain the enigma of suffering, but it does enable us to keep trusting God and believing in his goodness, even in the midst of the inexplicable. We may not be able to trace God's hand in what has happened, but we can still trust God's heart. And trusting God's heart encourages us to turn toward him, instead of away from him, to turn toward the cross and the road we must travel to get there.
Joni Eareckson Tada reached this conclusion as she reflected on her own life as a quadriplegic and the lives of countless others who suffer a similar plight. An athletic teenager, Joni was paralyzed in a diving accident in Chesapeake Bay in 1967. Putting her life together after the accident seemed impossible, and at times she sank into total despair, furious that God had allowed this to happen to her. For Joni, the slow change from bitterness back to trust in God dragged out over three years of tears and violent questions. But through her determination and the support of family and friends, she finally came to believe that God loved her and had not abandoned her.
For the past thirty years Joni has ministered far and wide. Through her books, public speaking and work on behalf of the disabled, along with her unique mouth paintings (she holds the brush between her teeth!), God has used her to touch scores of people. As a result, she receives thousands of letters and, not surprisingly, the majority revolve around the problem of suffering. Joni doesn't pretend to have all the answers, but she believes that knowing Jesus suffered is the greatest key to enduring our suffering and finding healing for our wounds. She says:
When you are hurting, when your heart is being wrung out like a sponge, when you've just become a quadriplegic, when your husband has just left you, when your son has committed suicide, to try to come up with answers is pointless.... The only answer that satisfies is to think of that greater affliction—Christ on the cross. And one day he will give us the key that will unlock sense out of it all. But until then, the Man of Sorrows is enough.
Yes, the Man of Sorrows is enough—enough to cause us, even in the face of our affliction, to ultimately turn not away but toward God and the road that leads to the cross.
Dennis Ngien, an international evangelist and pastor in Canada, tells about a conversation he had with a Czech government official as he was returning home on a plane following a preaching tour in the former Czechoslovakia. The man had attended one of the services where Ngien had preached about Christ's suffering for his people. However, instead of inspiring him to trust in God, he left the service cursing God, his mind swirling around the forty years of torment he and his family had experienced during Communist rule, particularly his parents' death by starvation and his own wrenching experience growing up in an orphanage.
When the man arrived home, he continued to burn with rage. His eyes fell on a crucifix hanging on his apartment wall that his mother had given him before she died. She had prayed that someday he would come to know Christ, but seeing it fueled his anger even more. He was so upset that he picked up a cake topped with thick white icing and threw it at the crucifix. The cake hit the crucifix and the icing clung to it. Then it slowly began to drip off the face of the crucified Jesus hanging there.
At that very moment Ngien's words about Christ's suffering resounded in his mind. As he stared intently at the figure of Jesus, he noticed there were tears in his eyes. He was so moved by them that he fell on his knees before the cross and surrendered his life to Christ. "Christ is for me, not against me," he exclaimed.
"I don't understand many of the things that happened politically," the man told Ngien as they continued to talk on the plane, "but I know that Jesus did not forsake me. He was in pain when I was in pain. He was in tears when I was in tears. He did not experience joy when I suffered most."
Ngien, reflecting on the Czech official's words, comments: "Forgoing speculation as to why suffering befell him, he was now risking himself to the loving care of the Divine Sufferer. It sufficed this wounded governor to perceive in the Cross God's deepest pain and his loving scars."
Like Jenny throwing rocks or the Czech government official throwing cake, we may find ourselves throwing things as we confront the intense pain of our undeserved hurts. After all, the road to the cross is strewn with rocks and other objects thrown by rage-filled sufferers down through the centuries.
So Christ's invitation to us still stands: "Come, walk this rugged road with me. Throw rocks if you have to. But don't turn away—turn toward the cross. Ponder your affliction in the light of my greater affliction; consider your wounds in the light of mine."