For its Bible study, my church is going through The Easter Experience: What If What Happened Then Changes Everything Now? Last night, we did Lesson 3, “My Pain Is Understood.” The point of the lesson was that Jesus understands whatever pain we are going through, since Jesus himself went through pain: emotional, physical, and relational.
There were three theological issues that came to my mind, two of which were in response to the group’s discussion.
1. I was wondering what exactly the Book of Hebrews’ Christology is. In Hebrews 1:2, the author of Hebrews affirms that God made the universe through God’s son. Yet, vv 3b-4 say (in the NIV): “After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.” But was not the Son of God superior to the angels before his incarnation and ascension back to heaven, according to Hebrews, since he played a role in creation? Did Jesus gain some status or superiority after his resurrection that was not his before? I guess that the best I can come up with in response to this question is that Hebrews 2:9 says that Jesus was made lower than the angels, so the author of Hebrews may have believed that the Son of God resumed his superiority to the angels after his death, resurrection, and ascension. I wonder if there is a deeper explanation, though.
2. The pastor read to us from the teacher’s version of our booklet, and it was saying that God prior to Jesus’ incarnation did not suffer. Now, since Jesus came and suffered, there is a part of the Godhead that understands human suffering. I was not convinced that God prior to the incarnation did not suffer. It seems to me, from reading the Hebrew Bible, that God in the Hebrew Bible suffered emotionally and relationally, for God was grieved at what human beings did. I see no reason to take that as less than literal. But, from a Christian point-of-view, I agree that Jesus’ incarnation was the first time that God suffered physically.
3. One of the questions in our booklet asked us if we truly believe that Jesus suffered the same sorts of sufferings that we do, and thus we can trust that he understands our suffering. The pastor read from the teacher’s version, and it said that Jesus did not suffer every single kind of suffering that is out there—-for example, he never experienced the pains of childbirth. But the booklet said that Jesus experienced every category of suffering: physical, emotional, and relational.
Then someone, whom I will call Joy, asked an excellent question: Did Jesus ever experience the internal suffering that comes through guilt, since Jesus was perfect and had nothing to feel guilty about? Some in the group replied that Jesus may have felt guilt at times, as when he left his parents as a child to go to the Temple. The more evangelical attendant of our group did not say anything, but I wondered what went through his mind when he heard that, since he has said in the group that Jesus was perfect and sinless, and thus Jesus could be a suitable sacrifice to God on our behalf.
Joy’s question was kind of like a revelation to me. Sure, in the course of my life, I heard and parroted over and over again the idea that God understands our suffering because Jesus suffered. But, perhaps unconsciously, I had a hard time believing that because I thought that God the Father and Jesus were perfect. I saw God and Jesus as beings who imposed on humanity their perfectionistic and unrealistic demands. I didn’t think that Jesus could, say, understand my struggles with a grudge, since I saw Jesus as so perfect that he was above having petty grudges. Recently, I’ve been struggling with Jesus’ statement that God won’t forgive us if we don’t forgive others: If that is the case, I thought, then God does not forgive a lot of people, including a number of Christians, who may hold grudges or be very reluctant to get back into a relationship with someone who hurt them, or who has a habit of hurting them. I doubted that God truly understood or sympathized with humans in their weaknesses.