John Stott died today. He was 90 years old. A good friend introduced me to his book, “The Cross of Christ”. I read it, begrudgingly. I didn’t want the things that Stott wrote about, to be truth. For if things that Stott taught—the centrality of the cross, the necessity of the cross, the authenticity of the cross–were truth, than who Jesus was and the reason He died on the cross would be truth also, a hard thing for my agnostic-leaning, athiestic-embracing soul to bear. That God would send His Son—would SACRIFICE–His Son out of love for me was overwhelming.
And yet, read I did. Page after page. I devoured “The Cross of Christ”, digging deeper into each and every page, marking it up with highlighters and notes in the margins—“Is this true?” “What if this is truth?” “Why would Stott write this very logical paragraph?”. And So Forth. And So On.
Until I came to the last chapter, and one of the last sections, titled “The Pain of God”. My soul. Could it be truth that God could know pain? Could it be truth that He could see and know the pain my soul was in? For I had settled that there could not possibly be a God. Because if there was a God, than the forsaken nature of the pain I felt was for nothing. And yet…..and yet I learned through Stott’s writings and through the Biblical story of the Garden of Gethsemane and the Cross itself, that God not only sees my pain–He knows it. He knows it.
Here it is in Stott’s own words:
….the cross of Christ is the proof of God’s soldiery love, that is, of his personal, loving solidarity with us in our pain. For the real sting of suffering is not misfortune itself, nor even the pain of it or the injustice of it, but the apparent Godforsakenness of it. Pain is endurable, but the seeming indifference of God is not……….If love is self-giving, then it is inevitably vulnerable to pain, since it exposes itself to the possibility of rejection and insult. ‘It is the fundamental Christian assertion that God is love, ‘ writes Professor Jurgen Moltmann, “Were God incapable of suffering…. then he would also be incapable of love,’ whereas ‘the one who is capable of love is also capable of suffering, for he also opens himself to the suffering which is involved in love’
Godforsakenness. Yes, that is what it seems like some times. But my God, my Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. And that love knows suffering, and thus that love knows the suffering of my heart—-and it matters. It is not nothing to my God.
Stott said of his own personal theology: “I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross. The only God I believe in is the One Nietzsche ridiculed as ‘God on the cross.’ In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?”
The God I worship is not immune to the pain of this world, nor to the pain of my life. O, how I often forget that! May I strive to remember that as I fight for survival and to stand fast, as I fight to immerse myself in the grace that my Jesus so freely gives me.
John Stott is home tonight. He is with my God and my Jesus. He is experiencing peace. Experience rest. Me too, one day….Me too.
****UPDATE: John Stott’s obituary and a very brief, humbling clip of Stott stating how he would like to be remembered.