The doctrine that God became incarnate, that he put on flesh and came to earth, served several purposes. One purpose relates to the physical and mental suffering you and I experience today.
While on earth Christ prayed for many people who suffered from sickness, including paralysis, mental illness, epilepsy, leprosy, blindness, and many other diseases. Because of his experiences with us we cannot honestly say, even when tormented with symptoms of schizophrenia, “He just can’t relate to what I’m going through.”
Do we really believe God needs help comprehending the pain of our tragedy and sickness? Does he have trouble relating to us? Perhaps not, but when we endure long stretches of suffering we tend to accuse him of being uncaring or too uninvolved: “He’s not moving fast enough to fix this.” “Perhaps he really does not comprehend the depth of our agony. If he did, he’d relieve us sooner.”
Since he created us and knows our thoughts before we think them, and since all our ways are naked before him, certainly he has no problem comprehending our struggles. Our accusations show we need help relating to him.
Here is one of the beauties of the Incarnation: Christ’s life lived as one of us allowed God to reveal his compassion for our everyday struggles. [ Word origin from late Latin compatī — to suffer with, com– with + patīto bear, suffer]1
In his book, Morning Thoughts, Octavius Winslow describes how God entered into our weakness and pain, through Christ. Speaking from Jesus’ point of view, Winslow writes:
“Think not that thy path is unique. The incarnate God has trodden it before thee….
Is it bodily weakness? I once walked forty miles to carry the living water to a poor sinner at Samaria.
Is it the sorrow of bereavement? I wept at the grave of my friend, although I knew that I was about to recall the loved one back again to life.
Is it the frailty and the fickleness of human friendship? I stood by and heart my person denied by lips that once spoke kindly to me, lips now renouncing me with an oath that once vowed affection unto death.
Is it difficulty of circumstance, the galling sense of dependence? I was no stranger to poverty, and was often nourished and sustained by the charity of others.
Is it that thou art houseless and friendless? So was I. The foxes hid in their shelter, and the birds winged to their nests; but I, though Lord of all, had not where to lay My head…”
Christ did not suffer in every single way imaginable, but no man on earth suffers in every single way imaginable either. Jesus did not have diabetes and COPD and brain trauma or symptoms of schizophrenia, plus a foreclosed home. He did, however, know anguish and wrestled in prayer with such intensity that beads of blood erupted on his brow.
“Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him (God) that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared…” (Heb. 5:7). He can relate to our agony.
God’s life on earth, in Christ, not only revealed his compassion, but also forbearance—forbearance toward our ignorance of who he is. Forbearance toward our temptation to exalt our weakness— You have no idea how hard this is for me.He has every idea, more than you can fully comprehend. Until you comprehend a bit more, take comfort in this: he told his disciples to feed the poor, stand up for the weak, pray for the sick, and visit those in prison. He is touched with the feeling of your infirmity, so much so that he calls on his people to extend his compassion to you.
And when you are strengthened, he asks you to strengthen others. Have no doubt, dear saint, that Christ, “a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief”2 will bear you up through your sickness and sorrows. He already has.
Open the eyes of my heart Lord. I have so much pain and fear I can scarcely see you. Have you visited me with your kindnesses and I did not notice? Before you do more for me, make clear what you have already done that I might find deep comfort in your mercies and grace. I want to meet you next time with a song on my lips.
Morning Thoughts by Octavius Winslow (Reformation Heritage Books, 2003).
1 Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition,2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009
2 Isaiah 53:3