Ten years ago I had a headache specialist who had all the empathy skills of a frozen tuna. Even worse, he rebuked me for my long-term condition. It’s no fun telling an alleged medical healer you’ve had a nonstop, two-decade-long headache (now three), been to many doctors, been tested, scanned, MRI-ed, medicated, dieted, exercised, vitamined, nutritioned, acupunctured, and adjusted up and down and all around, only to have him scold you because you are not trying hard enough.
I appreciate that he tried to fix me. As a patient, that’s mostly what I cared about. But as a flesh-and-blood human being with pulsating pain, I very much wished for something more.
Our Savior Has Been There
God is something more. God the Son, “Immanuel,” is not just a specialist; he is a sympathizer. He never just diagnoses and prescribes; he comes, draws near, feels, and cares. Not a truth merely for those perceived to be especially weak or victimized, this is gospel truth for every single one of us.
For the author of Hebrews the incarnation was profoundly comforting for all believers, precisely for this reason:
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, . . . [H]e had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, . . . For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. . . . For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb. 2:14–18; 4:15–16)
According to Hebrews, our ability to go boldly to the throne of grace is enabled by Jesus’s prior willingness to journey humbly into our valley of grief. The incarnation—which will continue on into eternity—means we have a Savior who’s been there, and has the scars to prove it.
In this way, the Christian God is much different than any other. While above it all, he is not impersonal or unfeeling. He is neither distant nor aloof. He is never cold or calculating.
This is a word for all of us who sometimes shake our hurting and haughty fists in the face of a God who allows suffering in his world. “Where is God when it hurts?” we cry. Let it be known that he has been, and still is, in the hurt. God the Son has come to comfort our sorrows by sharing and bearing them. He rescues us from our pain by having entered into that pain, and having passed through it to the other side.
God the Son has come to comfort our sorrows by sharing and bearing them.
As I now navigate my 33rd year of headache pain, along with unrelenting other sorrows to which God has seen fit to call me, the God who understands is my comforting hope. You may have a different list of troubles from mine. Our particulars may be distinct, but our themes are undoubtedly similar: loss, pain, grief, injustice. And this is our common hope: Christ has suffered like us.
Nobody Knows, But Jesus
In its original form, the old spiritual laments, “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen; Nobody knows my sorrows.” Happily, along the way someone improved the message slightly by changing the last words to “Nobody knows, but Jesus.” Somebody does know the trouble I’ve seen. Jesus knows it because he knows it (like he knows everything), and he knows it because he has experienced it. That is why it matters that his name is Immanuel. He is with us that much.
I have seen my children suffer. God has seen his Son (and children) suffer, too. You and I have tasted loneliness and betrayal. Immanuel did as well. We all have loved people dearly, only to have them turn on us. Jesus has been there. We all have been hungry, thirsty, tempted, beaten down, afraid. So has the Man of Sorrows.
Jesus has been there. We all have been hungry, thirsty, tempted, beaten down, afraid. So has the Man of Sorrows.
We all have been judged and misunderstood. People actually called Jesus a demon. We all have had people fail us in our time of need. Remember Gethsemane (Matt. 26:37–40). We all have called out in distress to the Father. On the cross, the Savior cried the same (Matt. 27:46).
There is inexpressible comfort in these truths. It is wondrous that God is everywhere all the time. But the fact that in the incarnation, this all-knowing, everywhere-present Creator has now walked among us with skin on—and then has chosen to keep that skin on—makes this truth as consoling as it is wonderful.
There is no comfort in comparing our notes, or in focusing on the people and problems creating our sorrows. But there is comfort in this: Somebody who is somebody really and truly knows. In the midst of pain and grief, look to Christ.