Sharing His Sufferings
Perhaps the most pressing religious question today is the problem of suffering. Certainly, it is a question to which we can expect the Bible to provide an answer of some kind. But what we find in the Bible is not a single answer but a variety of insights.
In 587 B.C. after a long siege the city of Jerusalem was conquered by the Babylonian army. The king was killed, the priests, nobles and leading citizens taken into exile, the walls broken down and the Temple looted and burned. For the people of Judah, both those in exile and those left behind, the question of suffering was raised in its sharpest form. Why had God abandoned his people? Why had he allowed them to be defeated and his holy city destroyed by the pagan Babylonians. Much of the literature from the time of the exile and beyond was addressed to this question in some way, and in the readings in part 3 we encounter the responses of God’s people to their own immediate crisis and the problem of suffering in general.
We will hear the complaints of Jeremiah against the seeming impossibility of his task as the prophet of doom whom no one believed, the lamentations of those left behind to worship in the ruins of Jerusalem and the Temple. We will read the wisdom of the sceptic in Ecclesiastes and in the book of Job a major investigation of the problem of undeserved suffering. As the exile draws to an end, we will encounter the sublime poetry of Isaiah of Babylon and his portrayal of the servant of the Lord, faithful in suffering. In the New Testament we will read the letters of both Paul and Peter, written from prison and facing death for Jesus’ sake.
In the suffering servant, Christians from the New Testament onwards have seen an image of the One who suffered on our behalf and inspired the loyalty of the apostles in time of trial. I pray that in part 3 you will encounter the Lord Jesus living and praying through his servants of both Old and New Testaments.