Isaiah 53:10-11; Hebrews 4:14-16; Mark 10:35-45
The Lord has been pleased to crush his servant with suffering.
What strange words these are at first sight! Just to harass an employee, let alone to ‘crush a servant with suffering’, is a chargeable offence in our country. But on the lips of the prophet Isaiah they are words of wisdom, love and mercy. They are not what they seem, though they do mean what they say, and seek to radically correct our all too human way of thinking.
- Firstly, they cause us to question ourselves about whether we really believe that God is good.
For many of us it seems the jury is still out on this question. Every bad experience, every hurt or suffering, every unhappy news report of a volcano or tsunami or earthquake makes it plain that we have not yet confidently and totally reached the conviction that God is good. ‘How could God do this? How could God allow this? Why does God not put an end to this?’
Many years ago, as a seminary student, I reached a point where I came to believe I could not go on to ordination. I had given up a teaching career and a house and I was very angry with God. I complained to him one night in a way that now causes me to blush with shame. I blamed God for causing me this humiliation and I told him so in no uncertain terms. When God’s response finally came I was utterly stupefied at his goodness and mercy towards me. Immediately I experienced the most intense remorse and vowed I would never again blame God for anything!
I had learned that God is good; that God is good when the sun is shining and when dark clouds blanket our lives. He is good when all is going well and he is good when disaster strikes. As Job affirmed: Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him. (13:15)
The total conviction of God's goodness is a necessary foundation on which to build our relationship with God; it gives great peace and great strength. No more anxieties or doubts and no more criticisms. Our God is good.
- Secondly, these words cause us to question ourselves as to who is servant and who is Lord.
We may notionally acknowledge that God is Lord and that we are the servants but in actuality we often seem to live and pray as though it’s really the other way round. That’s one of the reasons we get so angry and frustrated when he doesn’t seem to be answering our prayers the way we want him to, or when our plans are thwarted.
The good God is not my servant; I am his servant. I am here to do his will and wait on his plans for me. Let’s get this straight in our minds and hearts once and for all.
- Thirdly, these words cause us to reassess our notions about suffering.
No person in his right mind would claim that suffering is good in itself; certainly it is evil. And let us remind ourselves that evil is not of God's doing; suffering was never part of God's plan. We well understand that it entered our lives because we misused our gift of freedom; we wanted to set our own limits, to be our own god.
Suffering now accompanies almost every move we make; we are born in suffering and we die in suffering.
And yet there is a positive dimension to it all. Suffering can bring good. It dogs our footsteps but it can become an instrument of healing and growth; it can bring us to come to resemble the Lord himself, who learnt to obey through suffering. (Heb 5:8)
His sufferings brought him to perfect obedience, redemptive obedience, and our sufferings can lead us to come to bear a likeness to him.
As the vintner is pleased to crush the grapes (with suffering) so that he can transform them into wine, we too can be transformed if we accept, in the Lord, the sufferings involved in our own purification. We, too, shall become wine, pure and fragrant, and after that we live in the Christian hope that our good God will say over us the words, ‘This is my Body, this is my Blood’ and our transformation will be complete.