Passion Week Thoughts
In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The
Marble Faun, Miriam, who struggles much with guilt, is hoping for empathy
from her friend Hilda, whom Miriam views as a model of purity. When Hilda backs
away from their friendship, Miriam offers this theological assessment of her
friend’s incapacity for empathy: “I have always said, Hilda, that you were
merciless; for I had a perception of it, even when you loved me best. You have
no sin, nor any conception of what it is; and therefore you are so terribly
severe. As an angel, you are not amiss; but as a human creature, and a woman
among earthly men and women, you need a sin to soften you.”
The Incarnation is God’s softening
toward us in our frailty and sinfulness. But God did not “need a sin to soften”
himself. He did something much better. He took our humanity upon himself.
Already in ancient Israel, of
course, God was seen as having empathy for us in our humanness.
As a father has compassion on his
so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust. (Ps. 103:13-14)
That compassionate grasp of “how we
are formed” is the compassion of a Maker. I may love something that I have
made—and I may understand it through and through. But I do not yet know what it
is like to be that thing. And it is precisely that more intimate
knowledge that God gained when the eternal Son entered into our creaturely
condition. He came to pay a debt that we could not pay for ourselves. But he
did more than that. He came to be the likes of us. “For we do not have a
high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one
who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin”
I have often heard it said on Good
Friday that Jesus suffered the deepest agonies on the Cross so that we do not
have to suffer those agonies. That is a wonderful piece of good news. But in
his suffering he was not only suffering in our place—again, a powerful
reality—but he was also suffering with us, in the ways that we suffer.
And that suffering began in the Manger: the outstretched arms of the Baby in
Bethlehem are the beginning of what would happen when the Savior stretched out
his arms on Calvary.
Unlike Miriam’s depiction of Hilda,
Jesus did have a conception of sin. And he did not need to sin himself in order
to be softened to sinners like us. There is much mystery in that. But it is a
This reflection is taken from Dr. Mouw's blog.