Rejoice in suffering
By: Fr. Joe Fessenden February 5, 2011
Back in 1951 (I had to look that part up), Salvador Dali painted a view of the crucifixion called Christ of Saint John of the Cross (that’s the painting at the beginning of this post). This was unique among art depicting the crucifixion of Christ because it was presented from the perspective of God looking down on the cross rather than the worshipper looking up at the cross. It actually seriously offended some people so much that one man, angry at the idea of usurping God’s perspective, hurled a brick at the painting while it was on display in Scotland at it’s permanent home. Now I can certainly see where this objection could arise, but I also think that it is overstated. Such a point of view can lead to some real reflection, and I tried to spend some time on that earlier this week. God was, obviously, looking down on the events as they unfolded. Even though God, in His Eternal Now, was already living those same events at all points in history – indeed, each time we celebrate the Mass, those events unfold again in the sacrament. From a human perspective, that bloody sacrifice happened once so that it could have a lasting effect. I don’t want to go wandering into that theology at the moment, though. I’m more interested at this moment in the events of the actual crucifixion in human history and how those events were perceived by God.
I scribbled a quick note to myself on this while I was in the chapel and starting down this path. Here is what I wrote (this was in my little pocket notebook, so it was just the starting point for the reflection):
Looking down on Jesus from heaven during the crucifixion, did God feel hurt? Sorrow? Pain?
No, He felt joy – the joy of knowing that the final act was playing out to get His beloved back to Him.
Can I find that [joy] in my own suffering? For that, I have to find good as a result of the suffering of me or those I love. I need to spend the time to discern why it is a part of God’s plan. Then, I can find joy even in that suffering
So that is really the summary of everything I have to say here. God, in looking down at His son being crucified, felt joy. It seems it would be fair to say that for generations, God had felt great anguish at being separated from His beloved – that’s us. If we can say that we miss or want someone back (and mean it), I can only imagine how much God must have missed us and wanted us back. Unfortunately, the only way to bridge that rift was the suffering that took place at Calvary. The only conclusion I can draw is that the knowledge of that end made the suffering or pain so worthwhile that it was dwarfed by the joy of the prospect of our return to communion with God.
Now the hard part of that question comes. Can I find that kind of joy in my own suffering. On this one, God certainly has an unfair advantage. That whole omnipotence thing allows Him to know the good that will come of any instance of suffering. On the other hand, I, human that I remain, must look around and try to figure it out or, more often, simply trust that the suffering I feel or the suffering of those around me (see my last post: Teach me to love like you love) is part of God’s greater plan, and it must happen.
It’s interesting that Jesus and the Apostles and the writers of the New Testament all seemed to know this challenge and know that it wasn’t going away any time soon. This is clear not only from the time immemorial teaching of the Church on redemptive suffering, but also from many references in the Bible to the need to persevere in suffering and even, “rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ.” (1 Peter 4:13)
As a final note, the idea of looking at the crucifixion from God’s point of view is not dead. Recently, an artist used images from Google Earth to produce the same idea. Here is his representation of the crucifixion from God’s perspective.