Suffering and Fate

Suffering and Fate

There’s a phrase that has been rattling around in my head for about a year: He suffered the same fate as us. It has come to shape the way I make decisions, especially difficult ones.

Jesus did not save us from far away, but as Emmanuel, “God with us,” he came near our brokenness and our joy, our filth and our idealism, our fear and our faith. He didn’t avoid us, and he didn’t run away. Just skim through the Gospels and you’ll notice how many of the stories depend on Jesus’ close, personal, physical involvement in broken lives. See how many of the healing stories begin with Jesus seeing, hearing, and feeling. Jesus lived among people attentive both to their presence and to God’s. And he healed through personal contact, even touching lepers, dead bodies, and other unclean people.

And when it came time to suffer, it was an intimate and visceral experience. He did not sit and imagine what it might be like to suffer for us and with us, because he was not trying to create in himself an internal emotional landscape of sympathy or pity. No, he was demonstrating God’s love, not just in disposition, but in action. He was not creating the impression of sharing our fate in order to win support from a fickle crowd. Rather, he suffered the same fate as us–as the very worst of us–in order to become our perfect representative before God.

It is a wonder to me that Jesus did not guard his sinlessness more. We certainly try to guard it for him, creating all kinds of apologetic strategies and heroes to defend God’s honor. I sometimes wonder if all our attempts to protect the Lion of Judah from attack aren’t comically misguided. That maybe our fretting attempts at defending him are actually presenting him as a caged beast or a de-clawed house cat. For his part, Jesus seems forgetful of his sinlessness as he comes in intimate contact with guilty people and with guilt itself. Indeed, as Paul says, Jesus didn’t become sinful, but became sin. What closer association with our guilt could he have?

He was willing to be unequally yoked, tying his fate to the weak and weary, the poor and afflicted, the hurting and destitute, the sinful and shameful.

How unwilling the church has been to suffer the same fate! How quickly the church has sought to escape the fate of the city, of the poor, of the guilty! How unsurprising it must be to us now that prayerfulness is lacking in our ranks! How can we intercede for those whose fate we have escaped?

The prophet Jeremiah told the exiles who had been scattered into Babylon to pray for the cities they had moved to. They were to seek the peace and prosperity of the city in which they found themselves, for God was joining their fate to their city’s fate: “If it prospers, you too will prosper.”

Being willing to suffer the same fate should shape decisions about where we live, where our kids go to school, and what our family budget look like. How do you think living this way would change things in your life?