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Good Friday Reflection: He Chose You Anyway

Sitting in the backseat of a van, I listened as a friend relayed the story of her child's birth. She explained in detail the horrors of unrelenting Pitocin-induced contractions, and I wondered how anyone could survive such an ordeal. When I expressed my horrified amazement, she looked at me and said with conviction, "you can survive anything for 18 hours".


Her words became a mantra for me in the coming years. I applied them over and over again to mine and Greg's situation. After his first cardiac arrest, when doctors predicted that he would never regain his long-term or short-term memory, I told myself, "I can survive anything for 60 years." When he went into surgery over and over again to attempt to fix his ever-worsening heart condition I told myself, "I can survive the agony of a waiting room for 4 hours". I clung to the idea that anything is survivable if you know it will eventually end.


I was so naive: so certain of a strength that I didn't actually have. What my friend at the start of labor and I in Greg's hospital room had in common is that we didn't know what to expect until it was too late to back out. We went in assuming we'd have strength to endure and when things became far harder than we'd ever anticipated and our strength evaporated into pain, fear, and anxiety, it was too late to back out. As they say in the labor and delivery wards: "the only way out is through". Which, I've discovered, is much more accurate than "I can do anything".


As I've been reflecting on the events of Holy Week, I've been struck by the contrast between my approach to suffering and Jesus' approach to the cross.


I've never willingly suffered. Yes, there have been times when I've walked into circumstances that brought suffering into my life, but I was ignorant of what it would cost. I wasn't choosing suffering - I was hoping for a miracle. I assumed that time, medicine or prayer would end my suffering and I would eventually get back to pursuing my dreams for my life. When warned that it would be hard, I minimized the anticipated suffering, telling myself that it wouldn't be so bad and my love would be enough to endure it. Instead, I found suffering to be far worse than I ever imagined and my love to be far weaker.


Over and over again I begged God for a way out. I sought comfort in distraction, accomplishment, and food. I grew angry, bitter, frustrated and jaded. I was impatient, cold, and rude. I was selfish, withdrawing, and fearful. I manipulated, cajoled and micromanaged. I used every strategy I could to try to find a way out of suffering and came face to came with my failure. It turns out a lifetime is a really long time - I couldn't even suffer well for a portion of mine.


There've been many days when I've gone to bed grateful that I had no idea what was coming when I woke up that day. I've found that the only way to survive life is one day at a time: one challenge at a time; one emergency at a time. To know what is ahead would crush us. We can't face it.


So I'm mystified by Jesus' response to his impending death. Many people have known that they were going to die, but no one but Jesus has ever known exactly what their death would entail. We spend our lives avoiding even the thought of death. We don't know if a tumor will bring pain so horrible that we will beg for death. We don't know if a fire will burn us alive without the mercy of unconsciousness taking over. We don't know if we will suffocate while we choke on our own saliva. We don't know. We couldn't ever bear to know.


But Jesus knew. Jesus knew all that his nerves were capable of. After all, he himself had designed them to carry sensations of pleasure and pain throughout the body. He knew that he would be stripped naked and whipped until his skin broke open and his muscles tore. He knew that he would be mocked while carrying a heavy wooden cross on his torn up back, each step bringing agony. He knew the diameter of the nails that would be hammered into his wrists and feet. He knew what it would feel like for the gravity he created to pull down on his body, making it impossible to take a breath without pushing into the metal that tore through his flesh. He knew the length of the thorns that would puncture the skin on his head, piercing into the bone that protected the marvelous human brain he'd designed.


Worse still, he knew what it would mean to bear his Father's wrath. He'd been witness to the sin and rebellion that had brought destruction to his creation since Adam and Eve rebelled agains the Creator. He'd seen every murder and rape; heard every lie and cutting word; watched every theft and greedy swindler; observed every death from genocide and war. He'd seen parents kill their children and children kill their parents. He'd watched the people he'd created to know and worship him create their own perverse god's instead of responding to his love and goodness with worship. He had waited and watched, allowing sin to be left unpunished until the right time - until the cross.


So he knew what it would cost him to bear the Father's wrath - to carry the weight of sin and let his perfect heart be marred by the filth of humanity. He knew that separation from the Father, wrath for sin, and the experience of death was unfathomably more horrific than blows, thorns and nails could ever be.


And knowing all, he chose it.


Given opportunity after opportunity to back out, he stayed. Having the power to call down a legion of angels to save him, he stayed. Ruling the universe and upholding it by the word of his power, he stayed.


He stayed until everything was accomplished. He stayed until every prophecy was fulfilled. He stayed until the Father's wrath was fully poured out.


And then, when there was nothing left to do to save his beloved people, he "gave up his spirit" and submitted to death. He stopped breathing. His organs shut down. Rigor mortis took over. Decay began.


The Eternal One allowed himself to die.


Why?


Because of love.


His is a love that will endure and never fails. His love compelled him to stay and suffer, even when he was free to leave and knew that the cost of staying was to be destroyed.


He knew it all. He said yes to being separated from the Father so that you never have to be. He endured God's wrath so that you can experience God's grace. He, who deserved perfect love, was treated as an enemy, so that we, who were God's enemies, could be received with perfect love.


If you find that your love is weak, your sin is deep, and your righteousness has failed, take heart. He knew it all and he still died for you. He knew it all, and he chose you anyway.




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