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.
We inhabit a world of hurt. Pain is an ever present possibility. Grief stalks us. We are haunted by the specter and possibility of sorrow. We know it can strike at any moment. This reality is not restricted to third world nations, it is not present only for those living under violent dictatorships and backward regimes.
This IS the human condition. Pain is no respecter of persons. It comes to all of us. Most people know this instinctively. And most, at least to some degree, accept it.
But there are three kinds of people who struggle with the real occurrence of pain in this life. These are the very rich, the very powerful, and the very religious. There are people in this world, perhaps you are aware, that believe that if you have enough power, enough money, and/or the right religion, you can mostly avoid pain in this life.
Throughout history, the rulers and citizens of the richest and most powerful nations have been especially susceptible to this particular line of propaganda. With enough money, enough might, and the right kind of religion, we might be able to get out of this thing alive. Rich and powerful nations feel as though it is their birthright to live above the pain and sorrow that falls upon the rest. We just need a big economy, a big army, and a big God on our side. Get enough gold, guns and God, and you can avoid all pain.
This is nothing new. This is exactly what the rulers and citizens of the Roman Empire thought. This is what John the revelator mocks in Revelation 18 – ‘I sit as a queen, I am no widow, and mourning I shall never see.’ Revelation 18:7 ESV. But of course she sees mourning, it’s all just empty propaganda. The Romans sat on top of the world, the playground bully, they believed pain and suffering were for the rest of the world, to be doled out by themselves upon others as necessary, but never for them to suffer through. The problem is, they were still left with their own real world hurts and real world pain, but their own propaganda added the additional burden of keeping up appearances…
Modern Americans are tempted to believe the same propaganda, and propaganda it is. We have a big economy, big guns, and a big God on our side, Amen! Things should be different HERE. We are, after all, the wealthiest, the most powerful, and one of the most religious nations on earth. But, unfortunately, that is no guarantee (and we do like our guarantees). But there is no guarantee that tomorrow we won’t face a terminal diagnosis, financial ruin, crushing bereavement, bitter betrayal, personal rejection, or some other event that can cause us to take up residence in the house of pain.
Understand this – the idea that if you can become rich enough, powerful enough, and religious enough then you can make it through this life without pain is a pernicious lie. We try to live without pain, do all we can to avoid pain. But to try to be without pain is to attempt to be superhuman, and when we attempt to be superhuman, we wind up being less than human. We wind up as less than human because those that use power, wealth and religion to avoid pain only end up inflicting that pain on other people.
Look at what happened in Syria a couple of years ago. A powerful man who wanted to avoid all pain, inflicting it en masse on others. How about the financial crisis of 2008? Very, very rich people acting very irresponsibly in an attempt to avoid pain. And we don’t even need to start talking about how much pain religion can and has inflicted upon the world.
Or how about the Vegas gunman? An extreme example, but the last article I read about him talked about how, for the past two years, he had been on a bad losing streak in the high stakes gambling rooms and had lost much of his wealth. He was at a point where he was about to feel the pain of the loss of his status with family and in those high stakes gambling rooms. A pain he was not prepared to bear, and so 59 people had to die and hundreds more severely injured and otherwise scarred. I know, it makes no sense, but the portrait we have is of a man who couldn’t bear even that pain of losing his image. That burden of keeping up appearances…
Look at the passion of Jesus Christ. Here you had the whole gathering of the very rich, the very powerful, and the very religious. Pontius Pilate had the military might of the worlds most powerful army. King Herod was the wealthiest man on earth. Then there was Joseph Caiaphas, the high priest, at the top of the great religion of the world. It was these three who were directly involved in the crucifixion of the Christ, it was these three who controlled the money, the guns, and the temple. And their whole lives , not just in relation to Jesus, were spent dealing out pain to others to insure they never had to experience pain themselves.
Attempts to live without pain do not make us superhuman, they make us subhuman. When we try to be inhuman, we wind up inhumane. Because pain is the price of admission…
In a meditation on the nation of Israel and the expected Messiah, Isaiah wrote He was despised and rejected— a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We know this now to be a vision of Jesus. The word made flesh, God incarnate. He came and joined us in our humanity, pain and all. He did not come and take up a partial share in what it means to be human, he took a full share. He was fully immersed in all that it means to be human, pain and all. Because pain is the price of admission.
The price of admission to what?? It is the price of admission to life, to existence, to being. It’s the price of admission to being real, authentic beings.
Have you ever seen a newborn baby? Not a week old newborn, not even an day old, but two minutes old? It’s our welcome into this world, but sometimes the poor baby looks like they’ve been in a fight. Because they have. We cry tears, but they are tears of joy, because it’s a joyous thing, the birth of a baby. We want to cry out “Welcome to the world!!” But the baby just wants to cry out. Because pain is the price of admission.
It is a traumatic experience, being born. Maybe that’s why it’s the picture Jesus paints for fellow rabbi Nicodemus in John chapter 3, that you have to be born again to see the kingdom of God, because sometimes rethinking a lifetime of knowing can be a traumatic experience. But as we say to the newborn baby, welcome to our world!! The introduction is pain. Because if there is no possibility of pain, there are no possibilities at all.
Think about this – if you take away all possibilities of pain, then you take away all possibilities. For God to create beings in his own image involves real risk. It’s the risk inherent with freedom. The freedom to be real, authentic beings, the freedom of real choices in life.
In the beginning, God said “Let there be…”. And he created the stars and the sky and the light. He created the seas and the land. He created the plants and the animals, but something was missing. There was creation, but it was a creation which, maybe, was missing something. So then God says “Let us make…man in our own image,” now He has risked something. Because God made man, creatures, in His own image and yet distinct from Him.
He made man, created beings with true freedom, real choices, and now there is the real possibility of sin and death, pain and suffering. God always knew this was the chance he was taking, but He made us anyway. Not only did He create man in His own image, making possible for pain and suffering to enter the world, but He comes and meets us in that world right at the intersection of pain and suffering…
But there is a hope, after all. As Christians, we do have a great hope for the world, do we not?? “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new…”” Revelation 21:4-5 ESV. Christ will come again. This is our hope. It is what we confess by faith. There will be no more pain, no more mourning, no more sorrow, and all things will be made new.
So, how will this happen? How will all things be made new, and now mankind, with all of our freedom and authenticity, be able to live in that freedom and authenticity without pain?? I don’t know. I don’t know how the plans and purposes of God are being and will be played out. But this is what I hope and believe will ultimately happen.
But why risk in the first place? Why do we take risks? Why did God risk making us in His own image? What risk is acceptable? Do we really even want to live in a world without pain and without risk? Do we want to live in a world where we could all just live as couch potatoes, fingers on the remote, doing nothing but eating potato chips and drinking beer, then step on a plane, fly to Nepal and scale Mt Everest without any problems? Seriously, is that even worth it? Again, without the possibility of pain, are there any possibilities at all?
We live in a world where the former things have not yet passed away, of that I am sure. Maybe we are only in the first stage. Maybe this first stage was always necessary, something mankind had to go through to get to where God wants us to be in our journey.
The great Christian mystic Julian of Norwich once said “First the fall, and then the recovery from the fall, and both are the mercy of God…” Sometimes (maybe every time), we have to fall down before we can look up. But those of us who have fallen, if we can stay the course and not jump off the ship when we feel it sinking, can look back and say “It was good to fall in the first place.”
We have hope for our world beyond hurt. But we are not there yet. It is pain that remains the price of admission into God’s good creation. We do cry tears of joy at the birth of an infant even though we know that baby has just been through a traumatic experience – with many more to come.
“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
“As she glorified herself and lived in luxury, so give her a like measure of torment and mourning, since in her heart she says, ‘I sit as a queen, I am no widow, and mourning I shall never see.’”
Revelation 18:7 ESV