Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Excruciating Pain and Incomprehensible Love


I had been going through a period of spiritual darkness for several months. Very few people – perhaps no one – knew how I actually felt, because I still did all the right things. But inside I was practically dead. I barely prayed, and rarely read my Bible outside of church on Sabbath. My mind was swamped with questions and thoughts of anger and bitterness over repressed issues from my past, as well as dealing with more recent events. In spite of everything I’ve experienced of God in the past, I was debating with myself whether or not I wanted to continue in my Christian life.

Now, here I was at GYC Europe, surrounded by 1200 other young people who were excited about their faith. For the first couple of days I swung between feeling uncomfortable and bitter as I wrestled with my negative thoughts, and excited as I met people I hadn’t seen for years and listened to the thought-provoking messages of the speakers. There was something about the atmosphere, and as I heard stories about and experienced directly the ways God worked for us that weekend, and considered the solid messages presented,  my heart began to soften again. I was finding answers for some of my questions, and being reminded that God actually was there…

On Monday I went to a seminar about prophecy. At the end of the session, I forget exactly how we got onto the topic, but the presenter began to share some things he’d recently learned about crucifixion. “Did you know that we get our English word ‘excruciating’ from the practice of crucifixion?” he said. “The word means,‘Out of the cross’…”

He started with a story about how his wife had broken her arm so badly near the wrist that she needed a metal plate inserted to help it heal. Although she was going to have general anaesthetic for the procedure, the anesthetist also injected local anaesthetic into her arm. “We’ve discovered,” he told the presenter and his wife, “that if we don’t do this, the patients wake up screaming.” Apparently there’s a certain nerve running through that part of the arm that is extremely sensitive.

The presenter continued his explanation of crucifixion. It was basically death by suffocation, due to the position of the victims on the cross, and designed to be as painful and shameful as possible. Victims were naked, and their backs – often torn to shreds by whips – rubbed against the rough wood of the cross. When they struggled to inhale, they would have to try to lift themselves up in order to take a breath, thus pulling down on the nails that had been driven into their wrists, right where that sensitive nerve was…. I cannot even begin to imagine the pain. And that is purely the physical aspect of the ordeal.

To be honest, it wasn’t the first time that I’d heard details about crucifixion, but this time something seemed to hit me. The presenter was still talking, in a voice getting choked with emotion: “Yet the Bible says that Jesus endured the cross, despising its shame, because of the joy that was set before him…”

And then I began to cry. I never cry in public, in fact I loathe crying in public, but now I couldn’t seem to stop. I simply could not – cannot – comprehend the kind of love that would consider me worthwhile to suffer for like that. I had been thinking so recently that it was such a hard thing to be a Christian and go through struggles because of my faith in Jesus; I had almost been ready to give it up. Suddenly I was slammed with an overwhelming sense of what Jesus had been ready to do for me. I was “the joy that was set before him”; I was the reason he endured the cross. How could anyone love me that much?! And how could I be ready to throw away that love?!

I went out of that room a different person.

You, too, were the “joy that was set before” Jesus. You, too, are the reason he chose to experience all that he did. How are you responding to him?