how unique was the suffering of Jesus?

May 5, 2009

I don’t know when this question struck me the first time, but attending an Alpha course again tonight it struck me again: How unique was the suffering of Jesus really?

I’ve heard it countless times, how Christians talk about how bad the suffereing of Christ was. About the extreme pain, how the extreme pain Jesus experienced was something that no one could even imagine. Add to that the fact that he was innocent, which supposedly makes the pain even worse!

But the more I think about it, the more this sound like utter nonsense. I mean, many others was crucified, many of them similarly innocent (understand the Roman government of the time and the role of crucifixions in keeping people in line to understand my comment). Thousands over the ages have been tortured and killed innocently, and I believe the human specie only got better at torture as time goes by.

It’s as if Christians have this extreme fear of finding out that Jesus was just another human like me and you. Just a plain crusifixion would have been extremely bad, just as bad as it would have been for any other human. You know that it was an early Christian heresy to downplay the humanity of Christ? But by amplifying the uniqueness of his suffering, ain’t we downplaying his humanity? As if the normal suffering that a human would undergo isn’t enough, it had to be worse than anything you could imagine.

I don’t doubt the uniqueness of Christ. But I believe that much of what Jesus did was not unique to him. The Bible doesn’t have a problem with this. It talks about sharing in the suffering of Christ (Rom 8:17; Phil 3:10), about following Paul like he follows Jesus (1 Cor 11:1), about disciples doing the same things that Jesus did (Matt 10). Jesus was imitated, followed. Others have done similar things. In many respects what Jesus broughts was not supposed to be unique, but rather point to something that is common! Maybe his suffering is not supposed to be unique either. Maybe his suffering is exaclty that which so many Christians suffered while being persecuted, which so many slaves suffered on slaveboats, which so many poor have suffered at the hands of the rich. The extreme example of what humanity is capable of! The value of the severity of his suffering then is not in it being worse that what others suffer, but exactly in it’s being just as bad as what others are suffering!

Again, I don’t doubt the uniqueness of Christ. But I don’t like the unnatural way that it gets enforced, and can’t see why this is neccesary. Had I been an outsider I might have asked if there is something these people are trying to hide by overemphasizing this so much?

11 Responses to “how unique was the suffering of Jesus?”

  1. Jake Belder Says:

    Yeah, you’re right, Cobus. That’s a good point. His sufferings are not entirely unique, because part of His becoming man was exactly that—that He became one of us. He suffered as we did, and in His sufferings, we know that He identifies with us. To be sure, the suffering He endured by taking our sin upon Himself is something unique to Him, but to come to earth, live an earthly life, endure pain and suffering was so that in Him we find someone who empathizes with our deepest sufferings.

  2. I’m sure that many psychopaths have been able to make people suffer even more than crucifixion. What makes Christ’s suffering unique is the fact that He did it voluntarily, not only for those who love Him but also for those who hated Him. And then we also have to realize the significance of His experience that His Father had forsaken Him. I agree that the uniqueness does not lie in the method of death itself, but in the theological meaning of His death.

  3. Cori Says:

    I’ve also been frustrated at times about the way people would go on and on about the details of Jesus’ physical suffering when I know a lot of people (women in particular) who would welcome crucifixion compared to the things they’ve experienced.

    I always wondered about the emotional, psychological and spiritual cost though. Apart from physically identifying with human pain, I believe that at that moment Christ identified with every kind of human hardship and suffering ever experienced throughout cosmic history. That really moves me.

    Thanks for your ever-interesting angles on things, Cobus 🙂

  4. You’ve got to be kidding Cobus? You deny the word of God, you deny that Jesus is God.

    Again I ask, as I asked you before. When you studied did you cheat on your exams? Or should I contact your lecutrers and ask them why one of their students who considers himself a Christian is blatantly an unbeliever.

    Oh wait your lecturers (professors) are the ones teaching this utter blasphemy at university. No wonder you are so deceived.

    Throw your bible away Cobus, it’s of no use to you. Unless of course you truly love Jesus then you will seek to repent of your wicked thoughts and the bible will start to make sense to you.

  5. cobus Says:

    I don’t deny that Jesus is God. In the post I acknowledge Jesus as the Christ, and as unique. The post is a simple statement of something medical and psychological about the human Jesus on the cross. With the early church I affirm that Jesus was fully human, therefore his experience of suffering, physically and psychologically has to be that which humans experience. Denying this, making him some kind of super-human, or god-like angelic being that suffers in some way different from how humans suffer, inevitably open the doors for light forms of docetisism, something considered heretical by the early church, and the church through the ages.

  6. mari Says:

    The bible was written by nomadic men and put together by the Romans to gain control and power over the pagans.

    The bible is not the word of God it serves merely to put the fear of God into peoples lives in order to control them by breaking them down into sin, sin, sin and sin.

    There are too many blatant contradictions in the bible to have been written by God who has created a perfect universe. God is spirutual and not a man sitting in the clouds waiting to pounce on you.

    see my blog. for very interesting contradictions and view on this subject.

  7. Elisheva Says:

    Kobus van Wyngaard wrote: I don’t know when this question struck me the first time, but attending an Alpha course again tonight it struck me again:How unique was the suffering of Jesus really?

    COMMENT: No wonder the poor man is so CONFUSSED!
    I deal with MANY of confused people after they attended the ALPHA COURSE.
    Lately the N G KERK (Dutch Reformed Church) “adopted” the above as if it is Biblical doctrine.
    Also the 40 Days of Rick Warren and his false doctrines and books. Then we have “Oom Angus Buchan’s mighty men”…
    It is but a single person now and then who is able, with the Lord’s Grace and Mercy, that can come OUT of THIS false “entanglement” of strange and UN-BIBLICAL doctrines.
    What worries me even MORE is the “tsunamie” of FALSE “Hebrew Roots Movement” “Yeshivas” popping up all over the country and believers running after these so called “rabbis” with ‘superiour knowledge” as if it is from God Himself!
    I know this sounds very harsh, but so true.

  8. Brian K Says:

    Very interesting thoughts and something I too have pondered. I am certain that crucifixion was more terrible than we can imagine and I’m also certain that many have been tortured for a much longer period of time than anyone on a Roman cross ever had to endure. I do not see Jesus’ suffering as any way unique. In fact, to say so might possibly make the story devoid of meaning. He suffered just as many others have suffered. He was innocent, just as many others who have suffered are innocent. He willingly went to his death for the sake of others, but this his happened often in history (think about Martin Luther King who certainly was aware that his fight for justice was making him a target for violence).

  9. Tim Says:

    I agree with the article above and understand where you are coming from. But for me, the greatest suffering Christ experienced was not the physical pain, but the spiritual. On the cross, when even His Father turned away and He was truly separated from the Devine, if only for an instant… That is the spiritual death that Christ had to suffer, so that we (if willing) do not have to die spiritually ourselves. None of us can ever imagine what that must have felt like, to “die” spiritually, after an existence of pure divinity.

  10. […] The natural (unsaved) man will always argue as follows; (Taken from an article Cobus van Wyngaard wrote on his blog “my contemplations” on 5 May 2009). […]

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