A good God... and suffering
“Six days before the Passover celebration began, Jesus arrived in Bethany, the home of Lazarus—the man he had raised from the dead. A dinner was prepared in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, and Lazarus was among those who ate with him. Then Mary took a twelve-ounce jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard, and she anointed Jesus’ feet with it, wiping his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance.”
John 12:1-3 NLT
I’ve heard several teachings that reference the perfume Mary “wasted” by pouring over Jesus in Bethany. Often it’s referenced when speaking of the surrendered life of a Christian. “Mary gave all that she had. It may have been worth a year’s salary...” But few realize that nard, the “costly perfume” of her alabaster jar, has medicinal uses. In ancient culture nard was used to treat anxiety and even physical pain. Anyone who has used essential oils knows that it is often applied to one’s feet.
I believe Mary had listened intently to Jesus’ words of death in Jerusalem, but I also feel she recognized the emotional implications of his death march. Jesus was not stoic. Jesus, who wept at Lazarus’ grave, was an emotional man. I believe Mary knew him well enough to see the weight he carried as he walked to Jerusalem. She was doing all she could for him while he was in Bethany: providing care, nurture and rest during his preparation for the upcoming trial. She desired that he find peace and be protected from pain.
Sometimes in my Christian circles where we focus on breakthroughs in physical healing, we forget the suffering of Christ. Jesus was intimately acquainted with suffering, not only that of his disciples. In Isaiah 53 we read that he endured great trials and experienced the full range of human emotion.
“He was despised and rejected— a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care.”
Isaiah 53:3 NLT
I believe Jesus was truly empathetic with each individual he encountered, but then he also faced deep rejection, anger, offense, bitterness and hatred. He experienced the disappointment of those attitudes toward him. And, Jesus certainly was caught up in the trauma of Israel’s occupation. He may have been walking in a heavenly Kingdom on Earth, but he was not separated from the impact of dictatorship.
On the cross, Jesus invited all of humanity to act out their angst and anger against God upon his very own body. He asked that we confront and satisfy our own disappointment in life and desire for justice. He did not dismiss our anger. Jesus did not deny our disappointment or angst. Instead, Jesus drew us to himself so that we could rage against God and our disappointment in him--our disappointment in the human experience. Once our need for self-appointed justice was satisfied he forgave us. Through the cross Jesus invites us to deposit all our pain squarely upon him, then says, “I will not abandon you. I receive your pain, but I will never fail. You cannot destroy me and I will not leave you. I will not be rejected by humanity.” His resurrection life confronts our suffering and draws us to endure. To overcome. That is, as he did with Adam, he invites us back to the chaos of the world outside the garden and says, “Cultivate the earth, bring life, bring order and establish my Kingdom. Overcome the world.”
“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.””
John 16:33 NLT
Jesus was God incarnate, so that God could have complete communion with the human experience and so that humanity could fully relate to God. Today, perhaps He is living in you. If you’re filled with the Holy Spirit, then right now God is experiencing your life. All of your life. He is not only seeing it from afar, He is communing with you in it to see what you see and experience what you experience. Often, it is in pain, suffering, and trauma that we experience God’s presence tangibly. I see that God values the entire range of human emotion and experience. For some reason we were created with a broad spectrum of emotion and I choose to believe it is because our emotions reflect God himself.
He values our lives. He empowers us to overcome. He finds beauty through ashes. Above all, God redeems and builds upon all our self destruction.
“To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for his own glory.”
Isaiah 61:3 NLT
©️ 2018 Elizabeth Woning. All rights reserved.