I remember my first trip to Israel and Palestine. Our intention was to get to know the “Living Stones” of the land and to build a deeper understanding of the conflict through the eyes of those personally affected. But of course, you can’t go to the Holy Land without visiting at least some of the historic Biblical sites.
We visited the Temple Mount, The Western Wall, the Upper Room and many more. For some reason, I was just not experiencing a connection or that “Bible-coming-to-life” moment quite like I was expecting. I left frustrated. I guess in the back of my mind I thought that I would get to know Jesus deeper by walking the steps that he walked, but I left that trip without strongly connecting in Jesus’ stomping grounds.
A few months later, I made the decision to go live in the land for a 6-month period. Little did I know, one week after arriving, the 2014 war between Israel and Palestine would erupt. Every day was one horrific event after another. Too many unfortunate deaths and so much unnecessary suffering was occurring. A friend and I needed to find a resting place to meditate. On a long walk through Jerusalem, we came to the Garden of Gethsemane. It was after normal touring hours, but a kind man working on the grounds in the garden allowed us to come through the gate, and then went on about his business.
We sat down in a shady spot marveling at the olive trees, considering their longevity and imagining the stories they could tell if only they could speak. Naturally, we opened our travel-sized Bible to better visualize the story in the Garden.
Instantaneously, the visualization became overwhelming.
He told His disciples to wait while He stepped aside to pray, we imagined Him as He got up, feeling “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (38) then fell to the ground, and for the first moment, the Savior that so obediently served His Father, was weak. He cried out, asking that the cup, his destiny, the cup that contained the world’s suffering, could be taken from him. He asked His Father this two more times. All of this happened, somewhere on the grounds inside that Garden.
But still so perfectly obedient, He asked that God’s will be done, knowing fully what that meant.
And then the hour came, the hour of a close friend’s ultimate betrayal, the hour to be captured, disowned, deserted and blasphemed against. Jesus, our Savior, the one who came to befriend the world and stop at literally nothing to love humanity was left abandoned and alone, to die for us.
Sitting in that Garden we couldn’t help but hear the echoes of the desperate cries coming from our King Jesus. The sting of His prayers in His final moments haunted us as we sat there listening intently. What suffering He must have experienced, what suffering…
But at the same time, what an act of love? We saw clearly in scripture that this was God’s will, there was no denying His intent in His son’s suffering. While Jesus experienced the darkest hours in history, humanity experienced the greatest gift of love, the ultimate sacrifice that led to our redemption and reconciling relationship with our Father.
And suddenly the seeming dichotomy between love and suffering revealed itself as an interdependent relationship. While sitting in the Garden, pondering this, I muttered the words, “Love has never existed without suffering.” The greatest act of love was met with the greatest suffering known to man. And the gift of love we have been given could have never been realized without suffering. This was the Father’s will all along.
I began to think of the war that was happening at the time, all the suffering people were experiencing and how hard it was to continue to serve God in the midst of experiencing some of the worst sides of humanity.
Suffering is the ugly side of life that we are not immune to, especially if our perfect savior was not immune from it. But just because suffering exists, does not mean love is gone. And just because we have love does not mean there will not be suffering.
I hesitate to speak of love that can come from suffering, because I know how agitating that thought can be to someone experience such pain, but I do fully believe in the power of love and how healing it can be.
There is still too much suffering going on in Israel and Palestine in a conflict that seems to never cease. Within our own nation, people are experiencing depths of frustration, loss and grief in many capacities that seem unfair and unnecessary.
In a perfect world, suffering would just not exist. But the truth is, this is not a perfect world and therefore, an amount of suffering is inevitable. But because of Jesus’ death, we are left with the good news that even though suffering exists in our world, we have been given full access to the love, life and promise of a perfect eternity that our good savior suffered to give us.
Scripture from Matthew 26: 36-75