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A fundamental truth about human existence is that humans hurt in both spirit

and body. The experience of pain is not optional.1

Every negative experience of the body must be seen in terms of a curse, a form
of punishment from God for disobedience to God’s commands. The prophet
Ezekiel simply intensifies the conviction when he insists that punishment and
reward are not inherited but are the consequence of each individual’s behavior:
“The soul that sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father,
nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son; the righteousness of the righteous
shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon
himself” (Ezek. 18:20).2

All of these dramatically reverses the deuteronomic principle of the Old


Testament, especially the individual application given it by Ezekiel 18. Now, the
suffering of the “righteous one” (Luke 23:47; Acts 3:14) shatters the premise that
human suffering must be a punishement for sin. The suffering Christ, moreover, is
the source of the new blessing that is eternal life, the seal of which is the gift of the
Holy Spirit (Gal. 3:6-29; 2 Cor. 3:12-5:21). And all this is mediated through the body
of Jesus Christ, both the suffering and the glory; in his body, the definitive
revelation of God for human salvation is displayed.3

The intense union between the risen Christ and those living by the gift of his
Holy Spirit means that something of the significance of his suffering can be shared
by believers as well… Paul, in turn, thinks in terms of a participation in suffering
and salvation that unites both Christ and believers, and believers to each other (Col.
1:24; 2 Cor. 1:3-7)… The same participation with the sufferings of Christ
experienced by believers (Heb. 13:12-13) enables them to identify with the
sufferings experienced by others (13:3).4

Especially for those living in the comfortable circumstances of “First World”


modernity, where prosperity, safety, and success tend to be regarded as “natural,: a
form of human entitlement, suffering can be regarded as “abnormal,” an exception
to the way life ought to be… For most people throughout history and around the
world today, suffering is built into the very structure of existence: hunger, exposure,
illness, violence of every kind, and early death are not exceptions but the very rule
of life itself.5
Suffering, then, can be considered as the pain of a sentient system in
disequilibrium.6

… The experience of pain is intensely subjective… the experience of pain is


revealed to others only through the testimony of those experiencing it. Such
testimony, in turn, demands of others the willingness to hear and to trust the words
“I am hurting” spoken by another.7

If faith can open a person to the healing power of God in body and spirit, then
sin coorrespondingly can show the effects of closure to God in both spirit and body.
8

Against the backdrop of these examples of how suffering can cause the human
spirit to contract, we are moved to wonder at the mysterious ways in which
suffering provides the occasion for the expansion of the human spirit. Specifically, I
speak here of the ways inhwich humans show themselves able to move past every
kind of physical, mental, and emotional limitation, and past the experience of pain
itself, in manifestations of spiritual creativity.9

[Compassion] involves a “suffering with” another, which requires of us a kind of


imaginative leap into the embodied spirit of another, and a generous embrace of
their pain as though it were our own, making it, indeed, our own… I consider the
presence of true compassion as a sign of the presence of the spirit of God at work
with the human spirit.10

The Gospels do not portray Jesus as one above or removed from suffering; just
the opposite, his destiny is to experience human suffering to the fullest, even to the
agpnies of a shameful and violent death… In his particular and vulnerable body,
Christ reached out to touch and heal and restore to community those who ere
experiencing physical, mentla, and emotional pain.. Jesus’ suffering with and for
others is recognised not only as the expression of human compassion, which it is,
but also as the expression of God’s compassion for humans, God’s “love for the
world” (John 3:16).11

The deepest meaning of suffering within Christianity, then, and the most
profound understanding of compassion, is found in God’s participation in the
suffering of creation, first through the incarnation itself and then through Jesus’ life
for others, and finally through the innocent Jesus’ death on the cross suffered for
the sake of others.12

1 Johnson, Revelatory, 107.


2 Johnson, Revelatory, 109-110.
3 Johnson, Revelatory, 113.

4 Johnson, Revelatory, 113-114.

5 Johnson, Revelatory, 115.

6 Johnson, Revelatory, 116.

7 Johnson, Revelatory, 117-118.

8 Johnson, Revelatory, 119.

9 Johnson, Revelatory, 124.

10 Johnson, Revelatory, 126.

11 Johnson, Revelatory, 127.

12 Johnson, Revelatory, 127.