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10/05/2003                                                                                       View Comments

The Suffering Savior?

Why did Jesus suffer? We are told that he suffered and died for our sins, but I find the whole concept confusing.

First of all, what is so efficacious about suffering? Is there some secret ingredient to being in agony or privation that is somehow superior to feeling good? Is there a secret power that tends to make physical suffering moral while warning us that physical pleasure is immoral? Perhaps pleasure makes the soul weak while pain makes it strong? I fail to understand how discomfort in another person has any impact on me whatsoever, other than eliciting pity from me towards the unfortunate victim. To imagine that someone else’s pain, such as that supposedly experienced while Jesus was being whipped and gruesomely murdered, benefits me in some way is a bizarre concept.

This whole idea about the benefits of suffering is vaguely reminiscent of childhood confrontations with foul tasting medicine that was said to be good for me while mouth watering sweets were castigated as bad for me. It appears to me that the religious psyche is encumbered with a masochistic tendency in its pursuit to promote pain while at the same time denigrating pleasure. Of course this may help explain why sex is surrounded with such negative connotations in the Christian mind. Since sex feels good, then it must be potentially destructive to a person – right?

I find no redeeming qualities to pain for pains sake if I suffer it personally and even less if someone else suffers it. It might be argued that some types of pain are actually good for you, such as when a person exercises rigorously. Pain can also keep a person from harm, or from greater harm. For instance, the person who accidentally touches the hot burner on a stove will react from the initial pain by removing his or her hand immediately. Without the warning pain, the person may lose their hand. Pain has its uses, but how can anyone think that an invisible spiritual benefit could be gleaned from receiving forty lashes at the end of a whip? Better still, how the human race can benefit when one poor carpenter from Judea is being abused at the end of a cruel whip. I don’t see how that would contribute to the betterment of either the victim or those who hear about it.

Aside from the convoluted thinking that champions pain, let me ask another question: what did Jesus actually suffer?

He was born poor. Excuse me, but there have been untold millions of people who have been born to poor circumstances. Being poor is certainly not something to be envied, but is it all that uncommon in the world? What makes Jesus so special by being poor? If you want to say he is divine and left all his glory to be poor, well so what. If he is deity, then he has the ability to make everyone prosperous and has chosen instead to keep millions poor. They will never be rich, but after a short little camping trip on Earth, this Jesus went back to his glory. It sounds like the king who puts on pauper clothes so he can muck about with the regular folk unnoticed. When he gets bored of the exercise, he goes back to his palace and takes a bath. Besides, the bible really doesn’t have much nice to say about rich people. Rich people are always vilified while the poor are set on a pedestal. A rich god would be a bad thing. Being poor was not part of any significant suffering as far as I can tell.

He was mocked, spit on, whipped, and crucified. How many people throughout history have been treated in a similar fashion? Is there anything really unique about the way Jesus supposedly suffered as compared to so many all over the planet? Jesus was tortured for a day or two and died a day later. How many in POW camps were tortured for weeks and months before they died a horrifically slow demise. How many thousands have rotted away in prison for years as political prisoners, innocent of any crime? How many have died slow torturous deaths by ruthless and unforgiving disease? How many have helplessly watched loved ones waste away racked with pain as cancer or some other mindless disease slowly sucked their bodies of life? Suffering for a day or two is bad, suffering for years on end is measurably worse.

Someone might mention that Jesus bore all the sins of the world and suffered the full weight of the wrath of his Father. How long did he suffer this full weight of wrath, whatever that means? Was it an hour, three hours or three days that he had to suck it up? Either way, it is still nothing. According to most Christians who post on this site, every non-believer will spend eternity in hell suffering the full wrath of God. Eternity is much longer than a few days, so I think my threatened suffering in hell would have to be much worse to anything Jesus ever suffered.

I was taught that part of the reason for Jesus suffering was so he could identify with us. He would understand what it is like to be a human and we would know that he was willing to come down to our level to relate with us. Well bully for Him! How quaint that He who designed and implemented the whole creation including the inevitable death, decay and sadness, who also has the power to change it, who could have made it so it excluded all the terror and tragedy, chose to humble himself for a couple of short years and see how the peasants live. Jesus lived an ordinary peaceful life until he was about 30 and then did the traveling miracle man / story teller routine for at the most 3 years. Finally at the end he endured a really horrific weekend. WOW! SOME SACRAFICE THAT WAS!

I’m sorry, I just don’t see how anything that the mythological god-man went through can be thought to be anything even close to what uncountable men and women have been, and still are, subjected to all across our world and our history. It is time we humans stop blubbering for an ancient non-existent, or overrated, deluded martyr, and start devoting our energy toward those alive today that we can actually help.

Myths are for history class and children.

Adults know better…..

What do you think?

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