It can feel overwhelming from a theological perspective to wrestle with the complex nature of God’s relationship to evil, but it is made all the more difficult by our experience of evil. How are we to trust that God is in control when we encounter evil and wickedness in our lives, our world, and the lives of those we love? There are no simple answers, and emotional satisfaction with the proposed answers is hard to come by, yet the Bible does offer us some encouragement to trust God in the face of suffering. Jesus’ bones are reminders of God’s control even over suffering.
The cross of Christ ought to be the place that all Christians go to reassure themselves of God’s sovereignty over evil. The cross is, after all, the greatest wickedness in the universe: the unjust murder of the Godman. Yet, the cross is also the means by which God redeems sinful mankind. The point, then, of the greatest injustice in the universe is also the point of the greatest hope and mercy in the universe. More the point, God doesn’t merely make the best out of a bad situation – as though the cross is an accident that God turns for good. Rather, the cross of Christ is God’s foreordained plan to redeem and show His grace. It is a reminder, then, that God is in control even over these wicked events. As Peter says in his famous Pentecost sermon:
“Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. (Acts 2:22-24)
Peter has no problem holding both human responsible and God’s sovereignty as it relates to evil. But the cross manifests even more intimately God’s control when we consider that none of Jesus’ bones were broken.
Perhaps it seems strange to suggest that Jesus’ bones provide some assurance of God’s control and compassion. Russell Moore understands, he writes:
Jesus could count ll his bones. Everything else was falling apart, but no bones were broken. At first glance, that seems to be cold consolation. After all, what difference does it make if one has an intact skeletal system if one is executed in the most torturous method possible? Jesus did not have bones made of titanium steel. He was not surrounded by a force field. His bones would have snapped, just as easily as did the legs of the crucified murderers and terrorists one either side of him. Why did, and why does, this matter? The lack of broken bones there at the cross was a sign to Jesus … that whatever happened could not go any further than God’s purposes, and that God’s purposes were good. (The Storm-Tossed Family, 18)
Jesus’ intact skeletal system was assured by Scripture; it was part of a prophetic promise. John knows this and points it out to his readers:
Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. 32 So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. 35 He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe. 36 For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” (John 19:31-36)
John is arguing for confidence in the promises of God, the sovereignty of God even over the crucifixion of Christ with these words. Scripture is fulfilled, promises are kept, God reigns supreme even in the death of the Son! In the words of Moore again, “God might seem to be absent at the cross, but he was not” (19).
In all suffering God still rules. He still guards and protects how far suffering can go. He puts suffering within a boundary (Isa. 43:2; 2 Cor. 4:8-10). Consider Job’s story. He encounters unimaginable pain and suffering and loss, and yet always Satan is at the mercy of God’s allowance. Satan is on a leash and suffering is held within boundaries. Like the raging seas, God says to evil “thus far may you go and no further” (Job 38:8-11).
This does not, of course, change the painfulness of our own struggles and griefs. They are still real, hard, and sorrowful. We are right to grieve and cry out in the midst of our troubles. Yet, there is this comfort and reassurance: nothing happens to us that God does not rule over. Nothing happens to us for which God does not have good purposes (Rom. 8:28). All of Jesus’ bones were intact! He could count every one of them as a reminder that God was still ruling over even this wickedness. Even in handing Jesus over to judgment and death, He did not hand Jesus over to utter destruction and hopelessness. Neither will he do so with you.
As you face your own trials remind yourself that Jesus could count every one of his bones. They were all still there because God promised they would be. God will preserve you in the face of trials too. You can trust His sovereignty even when you see suffering ahead. You can count on God’s care because Jesus could count all His bones!
I really appreciate this one. Especially “Satan is on a leash and suffering is held within boundaries. Like the raging seas, God says to evil “thus far may you go and no further” (Job 38:8-11).”
In the months prior to my spinal cord injury in ’04 I had met with the men of my church and in tears I told them I was completely worn out from being on the (spiritual) battlefield, and I had no more legs to stand on (Heh! I never realized how real that would become!) I had no strength for even a finger flick on my shoulder, that if Satan so much as flicked my shoulder, I was going to go down, and I needed them to be there for me to catch me.
Fast forward several months, and I find myself measuring across a void from a platform two floors up. I lost my balance for a blip-second and found myself looking up with my motionless and unfeeling legs sprawled up the staircase. I felt right away as though Satan had asked permission to give me that flick, and God allowed yet declared “you may not kill him”.
I knew right away that I was now, suddenly, a paraplegic. I looked up and thanked God I was alive, to be a father to my children, then chuckled and said “OK Lord, THAT was NO surprise to you … What do you have in store for me?” God, in His grace, had given me perfect peace for the damage that had just occurred to my life and body. I was in God’s hands, in His shalom peace.