This reflection upon the suffering of Christ comes from D.A. Carson’s book, How Long, O Lord?: Reflections on Suffering and Evil:
For Christians who see in the cross the most sublime expression both of God’s justice and his love, the cross is immensely reassuring. It was a sacrifice offered once for all time (Heb. 10:12); Christ, having died once, dies no more, and in that sense no longer participates in the sufferings of the cross. But that does not negate the fact that he knows what suffering is like. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (Heb. 4:15). Above all, the fact that Jesus is no longer suffering crucifixion cannot mask the love that brought him to the cross on our behalf.
And that is enough. How many men and women have been won to Christ because by God’s grace they came to see that Jesus died on the cross for them? How many countless millions have first truly grasped what the love of God means because they have glimpsed the cross? “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice [literally propitiation] for our sins” (1 John 4:10). Our hymns have made the point again and again, as this well-known example from Isaac Watts (1674–1748):
Alas! and did my Saviour bleed?
And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?
Was it for sins that I had done
He groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity! Grace unknown!
And love beyond degree!
Well might the sun in darkness hide,
And shut his glories in,
When Christ, the mighty Maker, died
For man the creature’s sin.
Thus might I hide my blushing face,
While His dear cross appears,
Dissolve my heart in thankfulness,
And melt mine eyes to tears.
But drops of grief can ne’er repay
The debt of love I owe;
Here, Lord, I give myself away:
’Tis all that I can do.
Frequently it is when we are crushed and devastated that the cross speaks most powerfully to us. The wounds of Christ then become Christ’s credentials. The world mocks, but we are assured of God’s love by Christ’s wounds. Edward Shillito understood this. Writing in the wake of the First World War, when an entire generation of young men was mown down by machine guns and artillery in the endless trench warfare that marked that conflict, Shillito composed the poem “Jesus of the Scars”:
If we have never sought, we seek Thee now;
Thine eyes burn through the dark, our only stars;
We must have sight of thorn-pricks on Thy brow;
We must have Thee, O Jesus of the Scars.
The heavens frighten us; they are too calm;
In all the universe we have no place.
Our wounds are hurting us; where is the balm?
Lord Jesus, by Thy Scars, we claim Thy grace.
If, when the doors are shut, Thou drawest near,
Only reveal those hands, that side of Thine;
We know to-day what wounds are, have no fear,
Show us Thy Scars, we know the countersign.
The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak;
They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,
And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.
In the darkest night of the soul, Christians have something to hang onto that Job never knew. We know Christ crucified. Christians have learned that when there seems to be no other evidence of God’s love, they cannot escape the cross. “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32).