Pain of God Theology
LIVING FAITH STUDIES SERIES Five, NUMBER 48
New Creation Teaching Ministry G. C. Bingham
The Suffering of God and Man:
A Theology Of Pain
1. Introduction: Peace Is The Goal
What is it that causes man to believe that total joy and total serenity are the ideal for man?
We mean, why should man see the states of joy and serenity as to be desired above other
things? The answer is that It appears natural for man to be free from fear, pain, suffering and
sorrow. Indeed this too appears to be the case in Scripture. The passages of Revelation 7:16-
17 and 21:1-5 - amongst other passages - represent eternity as a place devoid of suffering,
sorrow, and death. The ideal ultimate shown in the O.T. in such passages as Isaiah 11:6-9,
65:17-25 and 66:22-23 is also of serenity and bliss. In any case most human beings desire
cessation of strife, tension, fear, cruelty, greed, pain and suffering.
The present facts of man’s existence are that pain, suffering, tension, sorrow, cruelty,
selfishness, terror and horrific happenings are all part of his normal existence. The dream of a
wholesome change, whilst persistent, seems by nature of the case impossible. In order to
have some relief from the confrontation of suffering the mind seeks to understand suffering.
It seeks a rationale which will, at the least, give some purpose and meaning to what appears
otherwise to be arbitrary and pointless, a useless imposition upon the human race.
There are many such rationalisations, some religious, some philosophical and they make their
appeal according to the mind-set of the one who accepts this or that explanation. Whether or
not they can prove, in the ultimate, to be satisfying is simply a matter of opinion. It is certain
that suffering is to most an enigma, and to many it is the cause of anger and indignation. So
much so that many are angry with the Deity which causes the universe to come into existence,
or as others see it the blind and alien forces which work the fate of the human race, and the
universe in which it lives.
There is a Christian rationale of suffering. The most painful element of suffering for those
who have no faith, is not understanding its meaning, purpose, and value. If there were even a
sliver of purpose which could be detected in suffering then the sufferer could know an
element of relief. The Biblical view of suffering certainly explains much of man’s pain, and
tells the man of faith that it is not, in the ultimate, pointless. We emphasise that it is only to
the man of faith that the Biblical view is intelligible.
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2. The Time of No-Suffering
The accounts of the creation in Genesis, chapters one and two, give us a picture of initial
serenity, purpose, and lack of pain and suffering. Creation, when completed, is said to be,
‘Very good.’ Whilst it is not good for man to be alone, creation in one sense is not complete
until man and woman constitute two discrete entities yet are one flesh. This having happened
all is good, i.e. functionally good. A wider view of the Scriptures informs us that man
correlates with God in his essential being. God’s essential Being as Creator, Father and King
demands man’s essential being as correlating in the elements of creature, son and subject.
Man therefore is contingent upon God, and as such he exists and lives in fulness. This is the
time of no-suffering.
The positive elements of the no-suffering are that man is in harmony with God and his
creation. There is harmony between human beings. A mandate has been given to man so that
his existence is purposeful, and there are indications of a goal or goals. Such can be seen by
reading Genesis 1:26-31, 2:15-17. Man, then, was purposeful, at one with God in His
creational purposes. Because of this the elements of guilt, fear, tension, anger, suffering and
so on were absent. Man was serene, guiltless, and doubtless was joyful, purposeful, and
enjoyed the creation in which he lived. This is inferred by the placing of him in a garden in
which it is said each tree was good for food and pleasant to the eyes. The positive
relationship of man with God, and man with his fellow-creatures and fellow- human beings
all made for no-suffering, and for total peace and joy, with purpose.
This situation no longer obtains. Why that is so we must discover. What we discover must
form the basis of our Biblical rationale of suffering.
3. The Beginning of Suffering
One of the most powerful books on theodicy is P. T. Forsyth’s, THE JUSTIFICATION OF
GOD (Independent Press, London, 1957). Forsyth would be the last to seek to vindicate God
and so no explanation ought to be tendered in order to do this. Nevertheless the Scriptures do
vindicate God in the matter of suffering within the creation. In other words, we are saying
that in the ultimate, God is shown to be the God of holy love, and has made no mistake within
His universe, though all appearances may appear to be contrary to this claim. Primarily we
see that sin is basic to the suffering man experiences, although all suffering by no means
relates to sin.
(i) Abdication from Harmony
If we see the Biblical view of creation is that God is good and all He creates is good, then
there can be no evil innately within that creation. The problem of Satan and his forces of evil,
and man and his rebellion must be considered. Some theologians see in Genesis 1:2, ‘The
earth was without form and void,’ the idea of a former creation become a chaos by some
former fall, rather than simply inchoate at this point. This could be so. Others see the
creation of celestial creatures, including Satan and other angels, as prior to creation, and this
seems to be borne out by Job 38:4-7 where the ‘sons of God’ - understood as the angels -
‘shouted for joy’ when the terrestrial creation was effected. It is assumed that evil began with
the rebellion of Satan against God (cf. Rev. 12:lff). The use of Ezekiel 28 to trace the origins
of Satan could lead us to believe either that Satan was created prior to Adam, and sinned prior
to Adam, or that his sin was to tempt Adam, he, at that point, having become inordinately
proud of his own beauty, and perhaps jealous of Adam’s unique glory.
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Whether celestial evil began prior to Adam, or subsequent to his creation is not the point.
Satan and his followers are shown to be evil. Adam, in his abdication from his relationship
with God, is also shown to be evil. The origin of evil is not discussed. It may well be that we
cannot use the same term origin’ in regard to evil as we can in regard to that created by God.
What is not created by God does not have ontological reality, but only seeming reality.
Augustine thought of sin as the negation of the good. Evil cannot exist except where there be
None of this discussion gets us very far. What we do know as objective Biblical fact is that
man lived in harmony with God, the creation, and his fellow human beings until he rebelled
against God. The passages of Genesis chapter 3, Romans 1:18-32 and Romans 5:12ff show
us the results of man’s sinning. Put together they are as follows:-
(a) Man lost full relationship with God, and in that sense died to God, coming
alive to himself.
(b) Man knew division between himself and his fellow-beings.
(c) Physical death of a certain kind passed on to the whole human race. Sin now
ruled over man, as did also death, and each by virtue of the other.
(d) Man, in rejecting God turned to idols which brought successive (or perhaps,
simultaneous) elements of sexual immorality, homosexuality and all forms of
rebellion and evil.
Put in another way man became both depraved and deprived. Evil invaded every part of his
personality. His mind-set was fleshly, i.e. egocentric and against God. This caused the
breaking of true relationships with God, the creation, his fellow-beings and himself. Much of
man’s sufferings can be shown to be just this loss of serenity, peace, joy and purposeful
vocation, as also a failure to understand the essential nature of the creation in which he lives,
and the functional nature of its laws and principles.
Man can be said to be a creature (and a people) without true knowledge of God, creation,
himself and others. Hence he is malfunctional because of his will and lack of true knowledge.
He is dislocated, disjointed, dysfunctional and awry. He is deprived of true emotional
fulfilment in that he has denied himself all authentic relationships, thus bringing upon himself
dissatisfaction, emotional deprivation, guilt-experiences and so fear, loneliness,
purposelessness and similar elements. Obviously his actions are going to land him in all sorts
of misery, reaction, and the like. His chosen egocentricity is going to bring him into conflict
with God, the creation, his essential self, and others. Such conflict produces anger, fear,
jealousy, rivalry, and results in suffering to himself and others. His best relationships will be
impregnated with his own self-seeking, so that genuine love cannot be said to exist in him.
Without this foundation of understanding it will be difficult for any person to have the key to
much of the suffering man endures. Even those who have it tend to veer off into other (and
lesser) explanations of suffering in the world.
(ii) Suffering and the Nature of God
At this beginning of man we must see that God is not a passive factor in man’s suffering.
Man had been warned against eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He had
been told he would die were he to eat of it (Gen. 2:15- 17, cf. 3:2-7, 11). It was God who
made death to be the outcome of sinning (Rom. 5:12ff).
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In Romans 5:12 both sin and death are pictured as two entities entering the world through
man’s disobedience. In one sense these are consequences man brought down upon himself.
In another sense they are the judgement of God.
A weakness of (sinful) human thinking is that man equates true love with no judgement. This
cannot be so. From what we know of human love we know that it is indignant where there is
wrong, otherwise there would be no true moral sense. It would not be love if it were not
angry with cruelty. Also true love demands recognition of evil, and, where it is necessary,
some kind of judgement, and even punishment. Love that is not clean, righteous and holy is
not essentially love. It is true that our emotions often turn to pity, amelioration of judgement,
and the like, but then love which is not tough will ultimately fail to do its job.
Having said all of this we will see that God is basically merciful, gracious, and forgiving.
Even so, none of this is a contradiction of His love, and none of it may be against His
holiness. We conclude then that man, having rebelled against God, has opened himself to the
proper anger and judgement of God. What is primarily puzzling to human beings is how it is
that God can be both loving and a Judge. That we will seek to understand.
What, however, must be concluded is that the beginning of suffering happened when man
rebelled against God, and so against His creation, including man’s own fellow-beings. Man,
in a sense, also rebelled against his own true (created) personhood.
4. The Suffering Which Comes From Man’s Sin
(i) Suffering Resulting from Human Sin
We must not be surprised if sinful man cannot comprehend the nature of sin, seeing he is
involved in it, and cannot be objective about it. However, in the light of Romans 1:20ff, we
know that man has rejected the nature of God, the creation, himself, and others. Hence he
suffers from lack of true knowledge, i.e. lack of truth. We are told he did not wish to retain
God in his knowledge. Hence he cannot ascribe the suffering he sees around him to his own
sin. Romans 5:12 tells us that both sin and death entered via (rebellious) man. This means
that his refusal to keep the functional law of the functional creation, i.e. the law of love,
holiness and righteousness, has landed him in grievous sin and crime. It can only be said that
his perverse use of the universe, and egocentric actions have brought much of the suffering
man knows. Thus wars, genocides, rapes, cruelty, self-aggrandisement all bring to the human
race the suffering which springs from mankind itself. Whilst it is a favourite pastime to
accuse others of these forms of evil, the same elements are in all the human race. Our point is
that they cannot be laid at God’s door.
Even those who admit man is responsible for the major part of suffering still accuse God
concerning it. They say He ought to do something about it. The Bible indicates that He does
a lot about it, but never before time, as also never after time. It is our assessment which
demands either immediate action or ultimately, no action. God passes over nothing, but He
does not act according to a sinful demand for action.
What is generally demanded is that God act with violent and selfish men to prevent them from
doing evil, It may well be that God does more of this than we can even imagine, but at no
point does God violate the wills of human beings. He may bring pressures and influences to
bear to change attitudes or actions, but He does not violate the freedom, even, of sinful wills.
Man being in His (self-determinative) image is permitted to will what he wills, and so often
he wills the
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evil which causes suffering to his world. Much criticism by one person of another is done in
the interests of jealousy, or anger at having failed to achieve or acquire what the other has
We can say then that much, f not most of man’s evil comes from his own actions. Yet there
are other elements in which the personal sin of a sufferer is not primarily the cause. This is
the case when one person suffers as the result of the sin of another, e.g. death through the
careless driving of another, blindness caused in a child by the venereal disease contracted by a
parent. Much of the world’s suffering can be seated home to the selfishness of others. Again
there is a protest which arises from many that God does not handle His universe properly.
Hence the cry of Omar Khayyam,
‘Ah, love! could Thou and I with Fate conspire
To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire,
Would not we shatter it to bits - and then
Re-mould it nearer to the Heart’s desire.’
It is of course a shallow cry, for the author presupposes his wisdom is greater than that of
God. It is the old pattern of laying the blame of all things upon God. There is no deep
attempt to understand the moral predicament which is brought about by man’s free will, and
God’s ordered universe. For this reason we need more deeply to examine (a) The fixed order
of things, with (b) The purposeful moving forward of all things to the appointed goal, and (c)
The incorrigible wills of fallen human beings. Not until we examine these can we come to
some worthwhile understanding of the nature of the suffering of the world. In order to
understand even these we must have an objectivity which is rare in human beings.
(ii) Man’s Inability to Understand the Truth of God
We have more than hinted that man does not have the disposition to know God or understand
the truth of things as they really are. Many will protest that they do wish to understand things
as they are. They point to the reasonably objective enquiries of science. Certainly man does
come to understand the natural functional uses and principles of much of creation, but the
whole he cannot see apart from faith’s enquiry and an acceptance of the revelation of the
Scriptures. This is because of the nature of man’s thinking. We mean not his ability to think
but the bias of his thinking.
Psalm 14:1 says, ‘The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’‘ It adds, ‘They are corrupt.
They do abominable deeds.’ The meaning is, ‘Men say there is no God so that they can feel
free to do what they will.’ Paul, in quoting this Psalm, adds, ‘No one understands, no one
seeks after God.’ All of this means that man is not concerned to know God. We see then that
when Romans 1:21f says, ‘They became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds
were darkened. Claiming themselves to be wise, they became fools,’ it must mean that man’s
intellectual ability was not dimmed, but rather his sinful bias prevented his ever knowing the
truth. Hence Paul says (I Cor. 2:14), ‘The natural man receives not the things of the Spirit, for
they are foolishness unto him,’ and Jesus says, ‘Except a man be born again he cannot see the
Kingdom of God’ and both mean that man does not have the will to know the truth. This is
why Jesus often cries, ‘He that has an ear to hear, let him hear.’ Sinful man then has not a
right attitude to understand suffering, for understanding is not primarily a matter of the
intellect, but of the will.
Even given in that man may wish to know the truth, he can only know that degree or area of
truth which can be understood by reason of his humanity, for man lacks essential deity. Isaiah
55:8-9 says that man’s thoughts are not God’s
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thoughts, nor man’s ways God’s ways. It contrasts the word of God with the word of man.
Even so, if man would understand then there would be nothing hid from him which were
necessary to his maturity of personhood Deuteronomy 29:29 says that the things which are
hidden belong to God, but the things revealed to us are ours to do them.
From another point of view man cannot bear to know the truth. It would outline his own
sinfulness, rebellion against God, and his moral failure. His guilt is a preventative against
knowing God. Also the knowledge of God would be confronting, demanding moral response.
Man prefers to remain in ignorance of God. For the time, the suffering in the world constitutes
man’s great argument against the goodness of God, and how could he surrender that? Man 5
many questions are not so much sane enquiries as they are in the mood of accusation. By
nature of the case it is impossible to answer such. Even if the answers could be logical they
would not be received. A logical answer can even be infuriating to the questioner, especially
if his own question is intended as a smokescreen to cover himself!
This does not mean that man cannot intellectually appreciate answers given - if he will! The
Spirit of God is ever working (John 16:7-11) and he brings men and women to a point of
desperation and necessity where they will, thus, begin to listen. By the aid of the Word and
the Spirit men can come to hear God, and even to know Him.
(iii) The Answer to Suffering Caused by Man’s Sin
There is, of course, no direct answer. Man, causing much of his own suffering, can lessen
such suffering only if he lessens his sin. This he is unable to effect. He often recognises the
evil he brings about, and the suffering which results. He is often moved by this to seek to
limit the evil of man. An example of this is the attempt in recent years to limit wars, or to
ameliorate their causes, all of this by direct action. Young men refuse to fight. Others seek to
bring about better social conditions. Such attempts may be highly commendable, and even
achieve certain success. The vision put forth is that if all men would do the same then wars
would cease, and social conditions effect changes in society. It is a vexed question.
Simplistic rejection of it would say that it cannot succeed whilst simplistic acceptance of it
assumes the humanistic estimate of man, i.e. man can succeed if he would try. A realistic
view is that much can be achieved if only some will attempt something. Realistically we have
to take into account the selfishness of mankind. It is this realism which angers those who
think man can eliminate suffering, and those who think that the elimination of even some
suffering is impossible.
We must then conclude that man has no right to lay the responsibility upon God for much of
the pain and suffering that is in the world. It comes from his sinfulness, his selfishness, hatred
and greed. He must not blame God for not changing the unruly wills of people. He must not
criticise Him because He does not alter the actions of men, and the consequences of those
actions. Finally man must accept the principle with God that he finds in the world about him,
namely that of retribution.
This leaves us free then to examine the nature of suffering, both its good and evil effects, and
insofar as we can understand, its ultimate usefulness and purpose.
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5. Suffering and Judgement
(i) Sin and Free Will
We have already seen that much of man’s suffering comes from the selfish and sinful use of
his will. What man decides to do, he then seeks to do. Hence he must take the consequences
of his actions. The question of whether man’s will is truly free has been debated both
Biblically and otherwise, i.e. psychologically, philosophically. Much of the Biblical view lies
in the following:-
Man is made in God’s image, and God is self-willing. Hence man will be a moral creature,
i.e. make his own decisions. These may be good or bad. Normally man should will in
conformity with the nature of things-as-they-really-are, i.e. God as He is, man as he is, and
the creation as it is. Man should understand this God-man-creation complex and decide
accordingly. His rebellion against God and his re-rationalisation of all things means his
decisions will not always (if ever) be in congruity with things-as-they-really-are. Hence his
use of will, will cause much harm and suffering.
In John 8:31-36 Jesus discusses the freedom of will, indicating that man? 5 will is in bondage
because of sin. He is a slave of sin. Other Scriptures make this point such as Proverbs 5:22-
23, and II Peter 2:19. The forces of Satanic evil also oppress man into further evil decisions.
See II Timothy 2:25-26, Ephesians 2:2, Hebrews 2:14-16, 1 John 5:19. Man-in-sin does not
see his will as bound. He makes clear choices of will and follows them. In practice he
appears to be free. Could he then make other real choices?
(ii) The Effects of Sinful Choices
Adam is a case in point. Having sinned he was afraid of God. In his guilt he hid, seeking to
cover himself. The effect of fear is to see oneself as alienated from God, and this fear
develops into hatred. In Cain’s case it manifested itself in hatred of Abel. I John 3:10-11
expounds this, and I John 4:20 rounds off the argument, i.e. the one who does evil and does
not love his brother is of Satan and not God. To say one loves God and to hate one’s brother
is a lie. Cain hated Abel before the non-acceptance of the sacrifice he offered to God. The
result was he killed his brother whom he hated, Abel. Romans 5:10, Romans 1:30 and
Colossians 1:21 show man to hate God from the heart. Man of course suffers from such
hatred since it is not creationally natural or functional.
(iii) Effects and Judgement
When God brought the principle of judgement into view Cain objected to the sentence as
harsh. Genesis 4:13-14 shows this: ‘My punishment is greater than I can bear.’ Obviously
God had overestimated it! In regard to the measure of judgement, Abraham commented,
‘Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?’ Theodicy (when expounded) shows that God’s
judgements are always right. If they are not then God is partial, unjust, arbitrary in decision,
and so out of conformity with His own law, and the holiness the Scriptures claim for Him. If
He punishes some and not others, or if He passes over sins and does not exact judgement then
there is no moral sense or stability in the universe. It may be that man - like Cain and others -
is angered against His judgements, but they should be unquestionable in character.
Romans 1:18 shows that God’s wrath is revealed upon men for suppressing the truth in (acts
of) unrighteousness. This is called wickedness. It is transgression of the law. It is rebellion
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the created order (and functioning) of things, and warrants judgement. Romans 2:1-11 shows
that man earns the judgement of God by the evil He does and that the judgement is ‘righteous
judgement’. Revelation 20:11-15 shows that the ultimate judgement is in accordance with
what persons have done, not for anything else.
A close study of Scripture shows that God never judges before the time, e.g. God’s words to
Abraham in Genesis 15:12-16 in which due judgement on both Egypt and the Amorites is
prophesied. God will do nothing before the time, nor after it, for that matter. The same
principle is shown in the parable of the unjust judge (Luke 18:1-8), and in Revelation 6:9-11
(cf. II Peter 3:1-7), that God will judge speedily, i.e. will not be tardy though it appears that
way to men, and even to the saints. Romans 3:25 and Acts 17:30 make it seem that God had
been tardy but in fact this was not the case.
The effect, then, of sinful choices is to bring the judgement of God upon evil. It is a basic
tenet and maxim of Scripture that no sin will go unpunished in the ultimate. It is also basic
that judgement will never be premature or belated.
(iv) Judgements in Time and Eternity
Whilst we cannot here deal with the entire matter of judgement, yet we can be sure that some
suffering results from judgements in time and beyond time. P. T. Forsyth once said that
conscience is that which makes man man, makes him one, and makes him eternal. He meant
that moral values have not only temporal but eternal connotation. Man’s conscience tells him
wrong matters not only for the time it convicts him. The Scriptures point to certain
immediate, temporal judgements such as the Flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah,
destruction of certain nations (e.g. the Canaanites), the deaths of Ananias, Sapphira and Herod
Agrippa. There are many more. They all lead us to the conclusion that God judges and
executes punishment. This is what many will not have as the truth concerning God and His
(a) ‘The Lord is a God of Judgement’
This is a statement of Isaiah 30:18. Seen in its context, judgement is grace. In the Scriptures
the terms judgement and justice are virtually the one. We have mentioned that God is neither
over-hasty nor tardy in His judgements. We will need to see this in large measure, but if God
lingers in His judgements then He leaves men in their guilts which, in fact, is the most painful
form of judgement. Romans 1:18-32 shows God giving man up to his own sin, and this is His
wrath, His way of punishing man. In this sense it can be said that God’s judgement such as in
the case of the Flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the destruction of the
Canaanites was merciful, both to those who received punishment, and to posterity. Those
who received judgement were cut off from their own evil-doing, and the continuing effects of
their evil were stopped. Such drastic forms of judgement may not suit our generation which
is squeamish in the light of this principle, yet it is a generation which has seen, and inflicted
as much (if not more) cruelty and suffering as any generation in history. The infliction has
come directly from man, however much it may prove, in the ultimate, to be a judgement of
God. Man is responsible for his own evil and must expect just retribution. Retribution alone
can give man dignity; otherwise he is treated as a stupid and irrational being, wholly under
contempt, from whom God can expect nothing in the way of true moral sense and behaviour.
We see in the first judgement - that in Eden - that man must suffer, woman must suffer, and
Satan must (eventually) suffer. So, in some sense, must the
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earth, but not for its own sake, but for man’s sake. In this the justice and judgement of God is
expressed. The creational terms for living are not altered, but some of the modes are.
Woman will suffer in child-birth, man will now earn his bread by the sweat of his brow.
These were not the original Eden conditions.
As man lives on the earth we see the death-fruits of the Fall. Man is not excepted from
judgement. Probably no human being could be objective enough to see or understand the
justice of God’s judgements. No human being can compute the nature of the Fall, the depths
into which man has fallen, or the innate evil of his heart. True, the Scriptures describe these
elements, but who, then, can receive them? Man’s complaint is often that the justice of God
is too severe, and His judgements harsh and repressive. Abraham’s cry, ‘Shall not the Judge
of all the earth do right?’ was not so much a strong affirmation, as a lever to get God to do
what Abraham wanted!
Much of man’s complaint about suffering is along the lines that God is too severe in His
judgements (i.e. punishments) and that He has not handled His universe as He ought to
govern it. Man’s deepest problem in suffering is in what appears to him to be the irrational or
inexplicable nature of it. His rebellion against God prevents him from seeing its rationality
and its true rationale. On the human level adults can remember their rage, resentment,
chagrin, and bitterness as they reacted to adult justice, judgements and punishments. Hence
the various judgements described in Scripture will be met by subjective assessments of sinful
human beings, and will themselves (i.e. the judgement) be judged and condemned, and God
along with them. The only other escape is to say that the judgements were seen by the writers
of Scripture to emanate from God when in fact they could not. Such comments would come
from moderns who will not allow a God Who judges and punishes.
(b) The Judgements of Israel
In the O.T. the law was not so much a body of legislation as it was instruction. That is man
was taught how to live by the law. Psalm 119 is a powerful exposition of this fact. The
words law, word, precept, commandment, are interchangeable. Justice was a judgement in
respect to how the law was to be obeyed, and as to how it would help. The word law (torah)
became identified, gradually, with justice (mishpat) and Israel was expected to live in mishpat
for God was the God of mishpat. This then was the right way and the best way of living, i.e.
by torah and mishpat.
This idea extended to God’s action relating to torah in His active mishpat and this action was
judgement, i.e. mishpat, involving both justice and judgement, that is, justice by judgement.
This accords with Isaiah 30:18 (and context), for the Lord is a God of judgement’.
When, then, Israel is judged, it is judged not that it may be destroyed but that it may be
redeemed. This rationale of judgement is found in the prophets. It also extends to the nations.
It is eschatological, not only for Israel but for the nations. Primarily Israel will be saved by
the judging of the evil, hostile nations. This judgement is known as the Day of the Lord.
The principle is also given in Psalm 96:12-13 where all creation is to rejoice because,
‘….the Lord, He comes, He comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with
righteousness, And the nations with His truth.’ (Cf. Psalm 98:9)
It can be seen then that Israel under judgement is not dismayed so much by the judgements of
God as it is encouraged, even under those judgements, to believe that God will ultimately
vindicate His people. All the great promises of the Covenant, the Kingdom, Messianic
deliverance and the like are given under the very
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stress of God’s mishpat as Israel experiences it in judgement.
This takes us back to the Pentateuch where God tells Israel He has chosen the nation from all
the nations of the earth, but not for any intrinsic merit of the people (Deut. 7:6). That is what
binds Israel to obedience, i.e. God’s grace of choice. The chapter then goes on to warn Israel
against disloyalty under threat of judgement. The latter chapters of Deuteronomy intensify
this teaching. Chapter 32 is a powerful song of Moses in which he speaks largely of God’s
judgements where Israel refuses to act commensurate with its privileges.
Doubtless a more detailed study is required to grasp the principle perfectly, but the same
principle must obtain for all men created of God. Whilst Israel undoubtedly has special
privilege, yet God does not act with partiality. This back- ground helps us to understand the
New Testament view of judgement and justice.
(c) The Gospel and Judgement
God has judged Israel, driven the nation into exile and repatriated it. Idolatry had been driven
from its midst, yet the nation was in need of repentance if the Kingdom were to come, as also
for its coming. John the Baptist gave out that message. He aligned himself with Isaiah 40:lff.
This passage announces forgiveness to Israel, and a cessation of judgement. Christ is aligned
with this same word. He shares in the baptism of repentance with a view to the Kingdom, and
the forgiveness of sins of the nation.
In the Gospel of the Kingdom he announces judgement upon those who will not align with the
Messianic Kingdom. At the same time he gives the good news of release and healing. His
message polarises the nations, so much so that one section hate him and his disciples and plan
to destroy him, and consequently crucify him. The Sanhedrin (i.e. the Jewish parliament) not
only reject his message, but that of the apostles, following the resurrection and the events of
Pentecost. Israel does not align with the teaching of the Gospel of the Kingdom.
The message is first delivered to Jews, and then to Gentiles. Because of the Cross God now
commands men everywhere to repent, and also to obey the Gospel. There is judgement for
those who do not. There are not only judgements for those of Israel, but for all men,
especially for those who hear the Gospel and disobey.
(d) Judgements of the end Time
The New Testament speaks (Matt. 25:31ff) of the judgement which will come to the nations
at the end of time. Other passages speak in similar terms. The Gospel must be preached to all
the nations so that some may be saved, and others come under the judgement for rejection of
the Gospel, as also for their sins. The Book of the Revelation speaks of two kinds of
judgement, (a) Those judgements of plagues and wrath which are poured upon the earth, and
(b) The Judgements at the end time before the great white throne. The evil forces of Satan,
including the beast and the false prophet are all judged and committed to punishment.
(e) Eternal Punishment and Suffering
It is difficult to prove that such will not be the case. Many commentators have expressed
dissatisfaction with what the Scriptures appear to say when they speak of eternal punishment.
Without linguistic wrangling it seems impossible to disprove eternal punishment. That is
there is posed for us a suffering which is eternal. Doubtless the thought is repugnant, and that
is why there have been attempts to ameliorate the blunt language of Scripture. It would be
more honest to admit the Scripture says there will be such punishment and disagree with the
principle than to seek to show that it does not say what is apparent. Some commentators have
solved the problem by saying that
The Suffering of God and Man: A Theology of Pain 181
the fires of punishment are eternal, but none suffers in them eternally. This poses the natural
question, ‘Why do fires of punishment go on burning when they are not needed?’
(v) Conclusion as to Suffering and Judgement
This section on judgement is vital to understanding why man suffers. He suffers by reason of
his disjunction with the created order of his universe. He is out of harmony with its essential
functional and ordered nature. He does not align with its purposes and (so) progression. He
does not move towards its goal. He seeks to be autonomous in the world he has rationalised
according to his own wisdom.
That would be suffering enough, but then God insists on being present to every molecule and
atom of His creation. It is His. Hence He judges all that is out of line with the essential
nature and function of His universe. That which opposes His creation He will judge and
punish. Even so that judgement is no end in itself. Because He is the God of love and grace
He turns even the wrath of man to His praise. His own wrath highlights the need of man to be
redeemed, and He provides that redemption. The outcome of His actions of wrath and
judgement should be, ideally, to drive men to grace and so to their redemption. Rejection of
such grace can only result in further hardening of the sinful heart, and the judgement which
comes from rejected grace.
All of this is said to show that man suffers by reason of many things, and the elements which
we have named cannot be seated home to God as though they were His fault. Man, for the
most part, suffers by reason of sin - i.e. his and the sin of others. In none of this can God be
charged with partiality, harshness, or lack of love. Man must accept the bulk of suffering as
originating from, or being caused by, his own rebellion and sinfulness.
6. Some Elements of Punishment and Suffering
(i) The Suffering Which Comes from Sin
The kinds of suffering man experiences relate to the kinds of judgement which come upon
him. As we have noted, man’s suffering intensifies when he does not know why he is
suffering. The element of the unknown or the (seemingly) irrational is what worries him. For
example in Job’s case he did not know why he suffered. His counsellors claimed to know
why, but they only intensified his grief by their wrong reasoning. They confused the issues
and increased the suffering. Job had to fight their whys in order to clarify his why. The
greatest suffering in history lay within the cry of Jesus on the Cross, ‘Why did You forsake
me?’ Though Jesus had known, previously, that he must go to the Cross, yet the ultimate in
his suffering was not to have a clear and logical why at that climax of rejection. That is WHY
he had to suffer such!
The suffering the sinner experiences comes partly from the elements which come upon him
such as deprivation of the norm of living, subjective anguish and so on, but primarily he
suffers because he lives in the deceit of his own sin. That is he will not acknowledge he is
guilty, even when he is feeling the very pangs of guilt! His rebellion against God, and the
anger he has for Him increases the suffering. He reasons more and more that he deserves no
suffering. We saw that Cain, when convicted of his sin, still struggled against the punishment
meted out to him. He claimed he could not bear it, which really meant that God had passed
out an unreasonable punishment. He was saying, ‘The Judge of all the earth does not do
The Suffering of God and Man: A Theology of Pain 182
When, then, we come to the measure of punishment meted out we must see that man is
responsible for meeting his punishment on the grounds of acceptance or rejection. If the latter,
then he intensifies his own suffering. The irony of this is that he then declares God to be
The other matter of suffering which comes from sin is that sin (or guilt) compounds
itself. This is its nature. Whilst covering itself with its own deceit, one act of sin with its
consequent guilt, triggers the person off into the next act. We have seen that guilt puts a man
relationally against God, and so that fear, insecurity and guilt further angers (irrationally) and
widens the breach. This is suffering that is born of sin itself, especially when we remember
that man is not truly man, of himself, and as Jeremiah 10:23 shows, the way of man is not in
himself - thus, in his rebellion he is depriving himself of himself, so increasing his suffering.
To deprive himself of himself must mean he is depriving his self of God. It also means he is
depriving himself of authentic relationships with others.
Further even to this is the principle of suffering, i.e. the wrath of God which is opened to us in
Romans 1:18-32. The principle is set out thus:
(i) Man seeks to suppress the true order of the universe by anti- acts. God is wrathful.
(ii) Man is inexcusable. It is not that he cannot know the true order of creation, and
the God who rules it. He can know.
(iii) He has deliberately rejected God, and so has changed the direction of his own
thinking. This results in a darkened mind, and foolish rationalisations of God,
himself, and his universe.
(iv) Such bias in thinking leads to idolatry. This leads to (a) Sexual immorality, and
(b) Sexual perversity.
(v) God’s wrath now gives man up to his own evil. Verses 24, 26, and 28 shows the
giving up of man to his own evil by God.
Wrath, then, whilst it is not sin, is felt in the actions and elements of sin and guilt. Man
suffers from his own sin and guilt, and God personally and deliberately gives man up to this
anguish and awryness of evil. This is God’s wrath. It cannot be understood unless we
recognise the vitalistic and dynamic nature of sin and guilt. This fastens upon man, and
destroys serenity and joy. It immerses him in its terrible nature. Indeed it immolates him. He
is in anguish. This is intensified by the fact that God does not merely allow him to slip deeper
and deeper into it, but actually commits him to it. Another way of saying this is that God
personally presses up against man in his evil, thus intensifying it to the agony of man.
In the above are included all the statements of Scripture as to the outcome of sin, and sinning,
namely, Psalms 31, 32, 37, 38, 51, Genesis 4:6-7, Numbers 32: 23, Proverbs 5:22-23, Ezekiel
18:4, John 8:34, Hosea 8:7, Amos chs. 1 and 2 amongst many others. These speak about the
soul that sins it shall die, of the agony of sin unconfessed, the power of sin gripping a person
and demeaning him, of judgement, of wrath, of moral pollution and its horror, and of ultimate
judgement. These are elements of wrath and judgement which a man experiences in this life.
God is never neutral in regard to sin. Man cannot know the awfulness of his sin, and thus
cannot know God’s attitude to it. The wicked man casts up mire and dirt. The wicked man
says, ‘God will not require it!’ He says, ‘God will not speedily act against sin,’ and so he sets
his heart to do wickedness. Yet ‘God is angry with the sinner every day,’ and He says, ‘I the
Lord will smite!’ Whatever men may say to the contrary as they express themselves as
morally outraged by the doctrine of wrath, it is nevertheless true. This is the source of
suffering for man and he dare not lay it at the feet of God.
The Suffering of God and Man: A Theology of Pain 183
(ii) Benefits of Suffering from Such Sin
The question is, ‘Benefits to whom?’ The answer must be, ‘Benefits in some cases to the
sinner who suffers, in other cases to the ones who would suffer even more were the sinner not
contained within his sin.’ Benefits then may come to both, according to particular cases and
(a) Suffering of Sin Can Act as a Deterrent
God’s word to Adam was that he would die if he ate of the tree of knowledge of good and
evil. The mention of death was intended to be a deterrent. Doubtless the Flood was a
judgement also aimed at deterring evil. Deterrence and its meaning is spoken of in
Deuteronomy 19:20 (cf. 17:13, 21:21), ‘And the rest shall hear, and fear, and shall never
commit any such evil among you.’ Doubtless not all are deterred, but that is not the point.
Many are deterred. This is good for the community.
(b) Suffering from Sin Acts as Retribution for Sin
I Kings 8:31-32 gives the principle of retribution for sin and righteousness, .hear Thou in
heaven and act, and judge Thy servants, condemning the guilty by bringing his own conduct
upon his head... ‘. Hence, ‘...when the wicked perish there are shouts of gladness’ (Prov.
11:10). Even so retribution has a purpose. It is to rid the land of evil, i.e. ‘to purge the evil
from Israel’ (Deut. 13: 12ff, 17:7, 19:12, Judges 20:13, II Sam. 4:11).
When it comes to homicide, Israel is instructed (Deut. 19:12), ‘Your eye shall not pity him,
but you shall purge the guilt of innocent blood from Israel, so that it may be well with you.’
The same principle goes for sexual crimes (Lev. 18:24- 28), for like murder such sexual evil
defiles the whole land.
It is interesting to note that if the people of the land allow evil to continue then the land itself
will vomit them out (Lev. 18:25). What should also be noted is that retribution is never
revenge. It may avenge the person who is harmed, but revenge is an inordinate reaction.
Hence the lex talionis - ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ is retributive, and kinder
than the cruelty of exacting more (Exodus 21:23-25, cf. Lev. 24:19-20).
All of this means that punishment is conducive to deterrence, to retribution and to the
stamping out of certain forms of evil. Since evil is the disposition of fallen man it is realistic
to seek to deter acts of evil by the fact of suffering and retributive punishment. Without doubt
the Flood, the judgement of Sodom and Gomorrah acted as deterrents to future evil, as also
the eradication - even if only in part - of the current evil.
(c) Other Elements Relating to Suffering
J. W. Wenham in his The Goodness of God (see Bibliography) points out that God exercises a
beneficent retribution. Retribution is in fact the recognition of responsibility, and the
equivalent dignifying of the offender by punishing him. The punishment does not exclude
deterrence, and may well (and rightly) include reformation. However, retribution will be
helpful to the offender as also society. Justice cannot be either evoked or maintained apart
from retributive punishment. What is more, since society is a solidary body - rightly
understood - then it must often bear part of that punishment. This principle is evident in the
fact that Romans 5:12ff shows us all men sinned corporately in Adam, and that a family
sinned when their head Achan sinned at Jericho. Society is thus made aware of the moral
issues, and kept sensitive to the same. Of course the reverse is also true,
The Suffering of God and Man: A Theology of Pain 184
namely that as in Adam all die (i.e. all in Adam), so in Christ all shall be made alive. Society
benefits in its solidary being from the goodness of man where this is executed.
All we have examined to this point has been suffering occasioned by sin and evil. In this area
to some degree comes the chastening elements of suffering, described in Hebrews 12:3-11.
The heart of this is from Proverbs 3:11-12, but then the book of Proverbs expands the theme
greatly. In the passage of Hebrews discipline is meted out to those who are sons of God.
Such are close to Him, but then in one sense all men are God’s children, by origin even if they
have chosen to abdicate that status (cf. Acts 17:28, Luke 3:38, John 1:12-13). God
administers chastisement to all men, and doubtless they suffer as a result. It is the penitent
believer, the true child, who benefits.
7. Christ and The Suffering of The Universe
The chief complaint of man, especially man-in-rebellion, is that God stands off from His
world. He is a cold Deity, detached from the anguish of the human race, and for that matter
the anguish of the whole creation. This is far from the case. In fact the difficulty in
understanding God’s love for His creation comes from sin. It was the task of the Son to
reveal God as love, and this through the act of the Cross, without which the incarnation could
have had little meaning.
What happens in time - from a Biblical point of view - is unauthentic without prophecy.
Were no Suffering One prophesied then his appearance would be an anomaly. Genesis 3:15
promised that seed of woman would crush the serpent under his heel, but that the same seed
would be bruised. Most prophecies of the Messiah, Son of Man, Davidic King and the like
have elements of greatness and power. Zechariah 9:9 alone speaks of the One-to-come being
meek and lowly, a claim Jesus makes for himself in Matthew 11:27-30. It is true that in
Zechariah’s prophecy there is one who is going to take fearful judgement (13:7, cf. Matt.
26:31) 50 that suffering is entailed. Also in Lamentations 1:12 the same principle is
expressed, ‘Look and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, wherewith God has
afflicted me in the day of His anger.’ It may be said this was uniquely the experience of
Jeremiah, but then Psalms which are indicated as Messianic also reveal suffering of the same
ilk, such as Psalm 22 and Psalm 69. The Lamentations verse can easily be linked with the
It is, however, the latter part of the prophecies of Isaiah that point to the one who is called
‘The Suffering Servant’. Most notable is the 53rd chapter, but the character of this predicted
one is by no means confined to that passage. Such a person must have been baffling to those
who lived in Christ’s time, but for the Jewish sufferers in the time of the Exile, these passages
would have been quite intelligible. Only one who has suffered exile, humiliation, hunger for
homeland, longings for true serenity can begin to understand the principle of vicarious
suffering. Suffering is a world largely foreign to man who knows the strong drive of
hedonism, and who prefers pleasure to pain. Hence the death of Christ on the Cross was an
offence to the Jewish, Roman and Creek worlds, though for varying reasons. The disciples
who viewed the Cross must have seen the end of their Messianic endeavour. To the
Sanhedrin the event was a triumph over the troublesome Nazarene. To the contrary: it was
the triumph of the Nazarene. It was the triumph of God, the God of love. Without suffering
there is no answer to the seeming enigma of the convulsive pains creation has come to know.
The Suffering of God and Man: A Theology of Pain 185
‘A Man of Sorrows, and Familiar with Suffering’
All the Servant Songs should be read. Indeed they should be studied deeply, for they are keys
to the problem of human suffering. These passages - Isaiah 42: 1-9, 49:1-6, 50:4-9 and 52:12
- 53:12 - build a powerful picture of a humble but despised Sufferer. He is at the same time a
Servant, serving others by his suffering. Even those who refuse to confess Jesus as Saviour,
and as the Suffering Servant are bound to agree that the passages fit his case.
When we examine the sufferings of Christ we indeed agree that he was ‘familiar with
suffering,’ i.e. ‘acquainted with grief’. He had grief in various ways. He came to his own
(people) and his own received him not. His announcement of himself as Messiah at Nazareth
caused his hearers to seek to kill him. The elders of the people rejected him without
examining his claims. He was entitled to such an examination by reason of his acts of
healing, love and mercy. He revealed the Father, but increased the hatred. He wept at
Lazarus grave from no mere human sympathy but at the sight of created mankind bowing and
grovelling before death. He had anger at the impudence of evil spirits. He grieved at the
bondage of man whom he had created. He wept over Jerusalem for its perpetual rejection of
the prophets, and now - at the last - of him.
His suffering in Gesthemane was such that he said, ‘My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even
unto death.’ These words have no rhetoric in them, no exaggeration. He was dying in that
garden! This is made clear by Hebrews 5:7-8,
‘In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and
tears, to Him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear.
Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.’
Here, in the garden, he is pressed to death. Had not an angel come and strengthened him then
doubtless he would die, cheated of the Cross. What then caused this Gesthemane suffering,
often called ‘the beginning of sufferings’? Some have ventured the thought that Satan was
pressing him down (cf. John 14:30- 31), and others that he was repelled emotionally by the
Cross. Probably both these ideas are not correct. John 12:27 shows a deeply troubled spirit,
and what he felt in part at that time he may well have felt in full in the garden.
One thing is certain; he had always anticipated the Cross. Time and again he had said he
must go to the Cross. This must was not merely the inevitable happening of prophecy,
although it was certainly that, but the indispensable element required to redeem man. Peter
later spoke of the prophets who, ‘enquired what person or time was indicated by the Spirit of
Christ within them when predicting the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glory.’ Jesus
said to two of his disciples after the resurrection, ‘0 foolish men, and slow of heart to believe
all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that Christ should suffer these things
and enter into his glory?’ Three times in Mark’s Gospel he tells them of this necessity (Mark
8:31, 9:31, 10:32), and yet they do not hear him. In Luke 24:46 Christ says, ‘Thus it is
written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead’, and later the
apostles insist that this suffering was in accordance with the Scriptures (cf. Acts 17:1-3, I Cor.
15:3-4, Acts 26:22-23).
Perhaps the bluntest statement of all is Acts 2:23, ‘This Jesus, delivered up according to the
definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of wicked
men.’ This prophetic rationalisation meant that suffering was essential to fulfil the purpose of
The Suffering of God and Man: A Theology of Pain 186
The Suffering of the Cross
Christ Is described by Paul as ‘the wisdom of God’. Doubtless he means - amongst other
things - that the Cross was God’s only solution to the dilemma of His own holiness and man’s
sinfulness. Whatever the suffering of Christ as the man who ministered in Galilee it was
minor in relation to the suffering of the Cross. Nor must his physical sufferings be counted
greatly since other men have suffered as much and more in the course of accidents, torment
and cruelty from their fellow-men. Not even the terrible indignity of hanging naked, and
being unlawfully subjected to contumely and the like must be taken as the deepest of his
sufferings. This one ‘familiar with suffering’ was the only person in all history who could
come with incorruptible holy love to take the sufferings of man upon himself - all the
sufferings of mankind.
A remarkable trilogy of volumes, namely that of the Dutchman, Klas Schilder1 are perhaps
the most thorough treatment of Christ’s sufferings. Schilder covers the entire Palestinian
ministry of Christ, and then the trial and the Cross. He discovers depths which cannot be
known apart from a related study of the Old Testament. The serious student will want to
compass as much as possible of the sufferings of Christ so that he can understand the measure
of God’s love, and His purpose for such suffering. Even so it is not possible for man to
plumb these sufferings.
John the Baptist announces that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the
world. Jesus himself promises he will liberate man from the power of sin. It is the event of
the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor which virtually terminates his ministry of announcement
of the Kingdom, turning him to the Cross, for which he has been predestined. Moses and
Elijah appear with him in glory, speaking of his exodus which he was (shortly) to accomplish
at Jerusalem, i.e. ‘he was transfigured that he might be disfigured, that we who are disfigured
(by sin) might be transfigured’. This is in accordance with the Fourth Servant Song where he
was so disfigured that his face could not be seen to be that of a human. The three attendant
disciples (Peter, James, and John) do not understand. Later, when he tells all the disciples he
must go to the Cross they do not understand. Indeed they fear to understand.
The words uttered from the Cross give some revelation of what he suffered. However they
must be understood in depth, not by human reasoning alone, but by revelation of the Spirit
(John 16:12-15, I Cor. 2:1O-13).2 There are many objective statements made about that
suffering from the N.T., but it is significant that they are made in the light of the O.T.
prophecies. When Jesus says, ‘The Son of man came not to be served, but to serve and to
give his life a ransom for many,’ then he was referring to the Suffering Servant of Isaiah.
When he said, ‘This is my blood of the New Covenant shed for you and for many for the
remission of sins,’ he was quoting from Jeremiah 31:31-34. Peter’s famous statement, ‘He
himself bore our sins in his own body on the tree,’ is a reference to Isaiah 53:4-5. Other
statements are, ‘Christ suffered, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God,’ ‘God
made him who knew no sin to be sin for us,’ ‘Jesus... crowned with glory and honour for the
suffering of death... that he might taste death for every man,’ ‘It became him in bringing
many sons into glory to make the pioneer of their salvation complete through suffering,’ ‘God
hath set him forth as a propitiation through faith in his blood,’ ‘...sent His Son to be the
propitiation for our sins,’ ... . he has appeared at the end of the age to put away
1 Christ in His Suffering, Christ on Trial, and Christ Crucified (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1938).
2 See Schilder’s Trilogy. See also the author’s book, Cross Over the Abyss, (NCPI, Adelaide, 1980).
The Suffering of God and Man: A Theology of Pain 187
sin by the sacrifice of himself,’ ‘...Christ offered for all time a single sacrifice...’. These tell
us objectively that he suffered and something of what he suffered, but they cannot really tell
us how he suffered what he suffered.
In order to see what he suffered and how he suffered that we need to know the whole gamut
of the nature of God and of the fallen nature of man, and to know the nature of sin as man has
to bear it in its elements of depravity and deprivation of his former peace and joy with God.
We must see its vile pollution, its guilt-burden, and the elements of pain, shame, fear,
loneliness and impurity, all impregnated with the fears of death, dissolution of the body,
judgement before a holy God, and the like. These are elements man knows every day whether
he will admit to them or not. Thus passages which tell of Christ’s identification with mankind
in his death (and resurrection) tell us what he suffered. In II Corinthians 5:14, Paul says, ‘We
are convinced that if one died for all, then did all die.’ In Galatians 2:20 Paul speaks of
himself being crucified with Christ. In Romans 6:6 he says the whole of the Adamic
humanity knew a death with Christ. John 3:14 seems to suggest evil was present in the Cross,
and Galatians 6:14 (cf. 5:24) shows the world and its evil were borne to defeat on the Cross.
Romans 8:3 shows that Christ died in regard to sin, the outcome of which was a judgement of
sin executed within his flesh.
The whole of the action on the Cross, then, was a conflict with the powers of evil, as well as a
suffering of the sins of mankind. It is true to say that there has been no suffering which sin
and evil cause, which was not borne by him on the Cross. In one sense sin’s punishment is its
own innate self. In another sense it is God who brings that punishment. Passages such as we
have mentioned - Zechariah 13:7, Psalms 22 and 69, Isaiah 53, Lamentations 1:12 - all
contribute to help us to see the vast suffering endured in that titanic action of redeeming man
and defeating evil. Doubtless the terrible cry of dereliction is the cry of all cries in history
which communicates the horror he suffered as he bore evil to its ultimate destruction. In
Psalm 22 we see the powers of darkness sweeping up against him, intent on destroying him,
only to meet its defeat. Similarly the enmity of evil is depicted in Psalm 69. However, it is