Every loving parent shares a child’s pain. Your child scrapes her knee. Your child falls and breaks his arm. More chilling: your child falls ill and dies. You would willingly take their place. Perhaps you have offered God that very deal.
I love my family. My marriage has been good—thirty years day-by-day with the love of my life; I’ve watched three children grow and run and laugh. Then I try to see myself as the kind of person who would willingly sacrifice any one of them on behalf of other people—and not just “others,” but on behalf of people who hate me. I try to imagine what I would feel if my children would suffer at the hands of ignorant and wicked men. Then I try to imagine it was my idea, but this is beyond imagining, that the whole affair would be my plan.
With such imagination comes discovery: I realize Jesus did not suffer alone. The Father and the Spirit shared the pain of the Lord’s betrayal, beatings, and crucifixion.
The triune God experienced the cross three-fold. We are familiar with Jesus’ suffering: his agonizing night in the garden when he offered up prayers through loud cries and tears; the betrayal of his closest friends; the shame and humiliation of arrest; the torture of beatings and lashes; and the slow death on a cross. These things we know.
But in each event the Father suffered, too. Everything Jesus endured, the Father suffered as only a loving parent can suffer. Nor did the Holy Spirit stand stoically by. At the cross the Spirit’s life force was held in check while all creation rejected the Creator.
God, the Holy Trinity, suffered three times. Each kind of suffering was unique to Father, Son, or Spirit. Each suffering was its own kind of death. Each suffering paid part of the price to liberate a captive and hostile world.
Community bears suffering together. In perfect community our sufferings are shared. Perhaps these sufferings are not lessened, but they are shared. Us, too: in our suffering we are not alone even as the Father, Son, and Spirit are never alone.
God, who is sweet community in himself, divides the suffering. He spread his suffering among himself: Father, Son, and Spirit. His empathy is great because he understands the grieving mother and the abandoned child. He has experienced these very pains.
And not just suffering—the Godhead offers at least one more lesson: community multiplies joy. The Son rose; the Father rejoiced; the Spirit was poured out. The victory of God was common property between them. They demonstrated the math of heaven: suffering is divided; joy is multiplied. The community of God knows our suffering, but in return all heaven’s joy becomes ours. Our sorrows are born by the great cloud of witnesses, chief among them the High King of Heaven. Jesus, the King, also extends his hand and says, “Enter into the Father’s joy.” The fruit of the spirit is not only individual joy, it is joy shared in community.
When we isolate ourselves in either suffering or joy, we miss the deep lesson of heaven. The earthly ideal of quiet “noble” suffering is the devil’s counsel. Nor should our rewards be a private joy. Private joy is an oxymoron.
Heaven itself has shared the bad and good. We, too, are made to share.