Although Jesus Christ experienced the full scope of human suffering and sin while hanging on the cross, some people have questioned the comfort that can be gained from Christ’s physical suffering, said William A. Dembski, research professor of philosophy, Oct. 19. It was his first chapel message since joining the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary faculty last summer.
According to Dembski, these critics claim that if Christ only suffered physically, his pain “cannot reach the whole of humanity, and the worst of its afflictions.” These critics say that Christ was on the cross for only a few hours, while many of the victims of Roman crucifixion suffered for days. Some critics also question whether Christ’s knowledge of the future — Christ knew he would suffer and die, and that he would be raised from the dead three days later — limited His ability to relate to human affliction.
Even so, artists have tried to depict the physical suffering of Christ during His passion, and Dembski referred to Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” as a recent example. But even movies like this struggle to convey the full measure of Christ’s sufferings, Dembski said. “By focusing so one-sidedly on the physical violence surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion, Gibson missed the far deeper suffering of our Lord, for which the cross was but an outward expression.”
Scriptures refute the critics and go beyond the movies by pointing to a deeper aspect of Christ’s suffering, Dembski said. For instance, Jesus showed the nail marks on his hands and feet to Thomas in John’s Gospel. “But what is a resurrection body doing with marks of crucifixion?” Dembski asked. After all, the Bible does not imply that the physical marks of affliction on a believer’s body will be transferred to the believer’s resurrection body. Further, in Revelation, Jesus is called the “lamb that was slain from the foundation of the earth.”
Dembski responded to these questions by asserting that “the sufferings of Christ transcended the torture of the Romans.” He also said that the Son of God’s omniscience did not limit Him from experiencing the full scheme of human suffering. Dembski pointed out that Luke described the young Jesus as growing “in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men,” thus showing that He related to mankind in all respects even from the His earliest years.
Dembski explained that Christian fellowship and charity are revealed in Christ’s suffering. He said this is the lesson of Jesus’ analogy of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:31-46, in which Jesus described His judgment as being like a shepherd separating sheep from goats. In this analogy, those who had not given aid to Christ when He was in need are judged guilty: Goats, separated to the left from the sheep.
“When the goats asked how they could have missed ministering to Christ’s needs, Jesus replied that what they failed to do for others, they failed to do for him. The failure here is the failure to follow Jesus’ commands to love one’s neighbor as oneself,” Dembski said. “Christ, on the cross, sacrificed himself for the life of the world and thereby became the life of the world. In loving one another, we love Christ. In refusing to love one another, we refuse to love Christ.”
Dembski has seven degrees from the University of Chicago, the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Princeton Theological Seminary in the fields of psychology, statistics, mathematics, divinity and philosophy, including two PhDs and four master’s degrees. He has authored many books and articles on a wide array of subjects, but is most popularly known for his work on intelligent design in books such as "The Design Revolution: Answering the Toughest Questions about Intelligent Design" and "The Design of Life: Discovering Signs of Intelligence in Biological Systems," a biology textbook coauthored with Jonathan Wells, due out this year.
Archived Flash Media and MP3 recordings of this chapel sermon can be viewed, listened to or downloaded through the seminary’s Web site.