A couple of months ago, I was approached by an older woman who knew I was a Christian and asked if she could speak with me; she proceeded to share many different themes that all of us could relate to—moments of hurt, long periods of loneliness, pent-up anger, health issues, financial difficulties. Sometimes she would cuss as she spoke, apologize, cuss some more; other times she would break down crying. She hadn’t really asked me a direct question, so I just sat and listened to her, let her get it all out.
Eventually she did stop and ask me, rather pointedly, “Does God even care?”
I know that question occurs to all of us at least once in our lives. And I know that our customary “God is there”, “God cares” responses can sound insubstantial; they are true, but they aren’t very tangible. What good are spiritual realities if they have no material or physical expressions? The Bible shows us God understands this tension, this need for connection to substance. His grace-full resolution was to incarnate His very essence, God in flesh.
It is in the person of Jesus that “God is there” and “God cares”. In Jesus, God identifies Himself with the whole of humanity, living out the same human experience we each trudge through day in and day out. Though he was God, he did not make his human existence more comfortable for himself; quite the opposite actually. He lived under the same conditions that each of us human beings must endure throughout our lives and was spared none of its hardships and horrors. He willingly took them upon himself so we can know that God cares. What I attempted to convey to this lonely, panicking woman in my answer was that Christ-on-the-cross, in suffering, abandonment, and death, is probably the clearest and most substantial expression of just how much God does care.
It is in Jesus’ suffering on the cross that God joins humanity in our suffering. In our unbearable moments of pain, suffering, fatigue, and sorrow, Christ-on-the-cross is God saying “I will go through this with you”, “You are not alone in your pain.”
It is in the Father’s abandoning of Jesus that God joins humanity in our abandonment and loneliness. In our moments of loneliness and perceived or actual abandonment, Christ-on-the-cross is God saying “I, too, know the pain and panic of abandonment.”
It is in Jesus’ death on the cross that God joins humanity in our death, that cumulative consequence for all that sin has wrought. In the moment of our death, Christ-on-the-cross is God saying “I, too, entered this terrifying and inescapable unknown.”
Up until now, God relating to and identifying with humanity in the person of Jesus certainly answers the question “Does God even care?”, but another question that perhaps in our pain we never thought to ask still remains looming—“Why is God identifying with us at all?”
It is not so we can approach darkness and death with some spiritualized form of stoicism. It is because Life lies beyond, and only Jesus can procure it. It is here in Jesus’ crossing of death’s threshold we see God’s great care for us displayed, not in how our identities are similar, but now in how they are not. By entering death, Jesus’ divinity is unleashed in all of his brilliant glory, majesty, power, and holiness, an identity full of light, life, and liberty soon to be poured out upon those who will identify with their resurrected Lord.
God identified with our humanity so we could partake in his divine nature; Jesus identified with humanity in our suffering and death so we could identify with him in his light and life. It is now our turn to identify with the One who identified with us through belief and obedient love, letting his identity shape ours. How could you let the identity of Jesus be revealed through you? Is there someone you could come alongside as Jesus came alongside humanity?