When it comes to power, God holds the golden cup. And if God is all-powerful, all things should be perfect because God would be lacking power if He could not ensure the excellence of everything. In practice, this means that there should be no suffering, pain, or death. But suffering and death do exist, which may lead some people to think that God must not be very powerful after all. Actually, there is a strong and quite fascinating link between suffering and power. To explain it, I will reference a Bible story where Jesus eats an important meal with His closest followers. This meal occurred during a festive time when the Jews celebrated Passover.
the meaning of the Passover feast
The Jews had observed the Passover feast for centuries, which included the important Passover meal, where they ate a sacrificial lamb with herbs and a special bread (Exodus 12). For those of you who aren’t vegetarian, this sounds like a tasty meal indeed! But its value wasn’t as much in the taste as in the meaning. Being a ritual, this meal symbolized something else: it was meant to commemorate the liberation of Jews from Egyptian slavery and also to celebrate freedom from sin. In this sense, the lamb represented Jesus, who would die to free humanity from the slavery of sin. By symbolically “partaking” of this sacrificial lamb, people recognized that their salvation depended on the Messiah. But why was this death necessary to begin with?
You see, the human race was created perfect and immortal, but death entered our world because Adam and Eve sinned (Genesis 1–3). Death was a natural result of separating ourselves from the Source of life—the Creator God. At the same time, death was a loving punishment, for an immortal sinful life would be an atrocious existence rather than a desirable one. But God’s love went beyond appointing an end to a miserable existence. God provided a pathway for humans to be reconciled with their Creator and to once again live sinless and immortal lives—the kind worth living forever. That pathway is Jesus. By offering His life, He chose to take our sins upon Himself and suffer the punishment of death on our behalf. When we accept His sacrifice as a substitute for our own death, we don’t have to suffer the eternal-death punishment ourselves.
Jesus celebrates Passover
Sometimes in the first century ad, after the Passover ritual had been observed for hundreds of years, Jesus Himself celebrated the feast with a few chosen followers. According to the Bible, Jesus was God who became human and came into this world by a miraculous birth. He performed many healings, preached often about the kingdom of God, and taught the key principles of this kingdom to His chosen students, whom He commanded to continue proclaiming the good news. But Jesus knew His life on this earth was coming to a close. He knew that He would soon die, and He knew that His death was going to be the means of saving humans from sin. In other words, His death was the most important event to ever occur on this planet! Importance, though, does not always manifest itself in flashy displays.
a humble sharing of the self
In the privacy of a small room, Jesus and His chosen students shared a simple meal. And “while they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body’ ” (Matthew 26:26). By symbolically breaking the bread, Jesus pointed to the fact that His own body would be broken. And by inviting His students to eat this bread, Jesus was bidding them to partake of the salvation that His death would procure.
Jesus also took a cup and, after giving thanks, “gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’ ” (verses 27, 28). Just as the broken bread represents Jesus’ broken body, so the wine symbolizes His blood that He spilled in His sacrificial death for the sake of humanity.
memory and shared life
Have you ever heard someone say, “She will exist forever in our memory”? This phrase is often understood as an emotional declaration of enduring love for a deceased person. But I think there is more to it than an expression of love. While life within a body is a unique kind of existence, this embodied life occurs at the junction of interactions with others. Because of this, our memory holds unique moments, events, and experiences that we share with fellow humans. In other words, our life is shared not only in our actual everyday interactions but also in the way these interactions become engraved in our memories, shaping who we are.
In short, our memory partly accounts for our identity. Indeed, to lose one’s memory is to partly lose one’s identity. So, living in someone’s memory is not something that occurs just after they’ve died. It is a constant sharing of ourselves during our actual life within our bodies. That being said, the idea of a person living in someone’s memory after that person has died reflects a unique aspect of our shared existence, where the living person carries the memory of someone who has died in a real sense.
Jesus’ odd request
After sharing the wine and the broken bread, Jesus asked His students to “do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19; also read 1 Corinthians 11:23–26). And to safeguard this remembrance, Jesus actually instituted a new ritual that replaced the Passover meal. Once He had fulfilled the Passover by becoming the sacrificed Lamb, people no longer needed to symbolically re-create the Passover meal. Instead, Jesus asked them to remember His sacrifice in a ritual of sharing bread and grape juice (or unfermented wine), which represented His broken body and His spilled blood.
But this request seems just a bit odd. Let me put it this way: if someone died in your place, how likely are you to ever forget that person? Quite unlikely, I should think. Such a life-giving event would be deeply engraved in your memory with immense gratitude. So why did Jesus ask His students to remember His death?
external salvation, internal choice
Jesus’ request to remember His death was not a selfish act meant to benefit Himself. Instead, remembering His death was going to be a constant life-changing experience for the students because of the implications of this death. But the fact that Jesus provided a substitutionary death for our salvation does not mean that every human being will automatically be saved. Because we have been created with free will, we need to choose to accept His sacrificial death. Jesus’ death is fully actualized only through this acceptance. Thus, it is crucial that we keep this event at the forefront of our minds. The alternatives are quite grim: we could reject Jesus’ death outright and lose out on eternal life. We could try to earn our own salvation by living a good life. But even the most selfless human life is tainted by sin, and, therefore, it can never be sufficiently pure to ensure our pardon. Or we could accept Christ’s sacrifice but neglect to realize its importance, not just for our eternal life but for our day-to-day living.
This neglect can eventually become outright rejection in that it loses its effectiveness. In short, salvation comes from outside but is made effective by our choice to accept it inwardly. Of equal importance is to keep Jesus’ sacrificial death in the foreground, constantly recognizing the power of God’s love in saving and transforming us according to His selfless character.
suffering and the power of love
God’s power is indeed infinite and surpasses the power of any other being in the universe. This superiority is warranted by the fact that God alone is an uncreated Creator, and thus He precedes all other life-forms. But the supremacy of God’s power stems from one central fact: the power of love. In other words, God is all-powerful because He is all-loving. It is love that secured our salvation. By taking upon Himself all the sins of the world, and therefore enduring the most excruciating suffering and death ever possible, Jesus’ infinite love was the most powerful act possible. In this way, suffering and power were both present in Jesus’ life, thereby answering the issue of pain both logically and personally.
This is not a complete answer to the existence of sin and suffering, for the existence of sin and pain is ultimately inexplicable. But it is sufficient to elicit a good choice with eternal consequences.
Adelina Alexe is a systematic theology student at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. She loves God and enjoys nature, the arts, and meaningful conversations.