To a friend

Colijn de Coter - Christ as the Man of Sorrows...

Colijn de Coter – Christ as the Man of Sorrows – WGA5453 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


I don’t usually invoke the comparison, because its weight is extreme and its depth is beyond my ken, but it is known that among the qualities of Christ himself this one is listed: “…A man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.”


The infinite joy which must accompany infinite wisdom or enlightenment, and the infinite gratification at hand through infinite power, together somehow fail to provide God on Earth with the merry outlook of a Chesterton or a fool. Our Lord is not a knower of suffering, a comprehender or expert observer, knowing its qualities and results with a scientific precision which we sufferers can only envy; He is familiar with it. It is among his family.

Isaiah stands in Heavenly inspiration before the corrupt King of Israel and announces the maker of the universe not as a man of might, insight, purity, or accomplishment, but “a man of sorrows.”


…He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him
Nothing in his appearance that we should desire him
Like one from whom men hide their faces
He was condemned, and we esteemed him not…
But He was crushed for our iniquities
He was pierced for our transgressions
The punishment that brought us peace was upon him
And by his wounds we are healed.


My memory carries these lines, perhaps in error, but certainly in adoration. Somewhere in Isaiah 53 the Lord drew closer to me than I ever dared draw close to Him. God may as well have betrayed a fondness for horseradish or for Black Sabbath’s early work or for Mongolian beef with green onions, shared with my own loves, as so described Himself through his prophet in the distant millennia. In walking the Earth as a man of sorrows, he has offered every man of sorrows a kinship at which every man of laughter should weep with envy. He has extended a comfort our way, in the form of His inestimable wisdom’s confirmation of our own emotional conclusion: that to love is to hurt. He only adds the insight which entirely upends the impulse of our sufferings: If to love is to hurt, then inevitably to hurt for love is the only means by which a man can give his beloved its due.


No man properly loves America who does not lament its decline. Aurelius could not be said to love Rome until Aurelius could properly be said to despise Rome, that is, the Rome he saw before him as a betrayal of the Rome that was or might have been. Nobody can truly adore Jefferson except his creator, who saw the moment at which that genius could have extinguished not only aristocracy but slavery at a single blow…and saw the moment slip away. Nobody who rejoices over an Earthly thing as it is really loves it; the true lover of life can be recognized by his tears.


I once said to myself that to love a thing is only to really see it; that we do not love trees because we do not comprehend trees, and that the love of a botanist for a tree is the closest we have come to the rightful adoration a man owes the miracle of growth and strength we see in every sycamore and sapling. I meant that the vistas of learning available to every specialized study, no matter how specialized, were sufficiently enormous to fully justify a lifetime of study and interest; yet we non-specialists casually dismissed such matters with a refusal to fully investigate the infinite depth of mystery available in every grain of sand. And every one of these hidden, yet vast, fields of learning fully justified the total absorption which we would see in an academic who had made it his life’s work. I still believe this sentiment.


Loss, mortality, disappointment, failure. The griefs of Man echo the griefs of God. The virtuous powers of a man (though not their sinful imitations) to grieve are also his powers to emulate the way that God loves us, and loves all the world. God loves humanity the way a parent loves a profligate child who is in and out of rehab, opportunities lost, gifts squandered, only to re-emerge and then once again be crushed and then once again sincerely hoped for. The hopelessness and hope of that situation, at each repetition seeming new yet once again seeming the same and doomed to the same outcome…How could God yet love us? With sorrow, that is how. He yet once again puts his faith in us. He yet once again puts His broken heart back together, while a greater intellect than we can even conceive considers our history of faithlessness. He accepts us back again through a hedge of rationality that makes you or i look like nothing but an id. And you and i have a rationality, and a sadness sufficient to crush a million others.


If sorrow is a major quality of Christ, then to grieve is to act virtuously, for virtue means nothing else but the practice of the qualities of God.



2 thoughts on “To a friend

  1. So true and additionally, the suffering of Christ and the love of God are redemptive as ours can also be through the power of God. Very true, thought provoking, and well said.

  2. I’ve had to go back and reread these words. They are well-worth the time and thought. And they deserve a better response than I can give. But I’ll try my best…It is so true that in our world, to love is to hurt. But also, love compels us to give, to rejoice, to hope, to open our hearts, to receive, to learn, to grow. I suspect that you mean these things too as when you speak of parental love. To love is to grieve, but it is also to take positive action as Christ did. People do not have the power to provide salvation as Christ has, but we do have the ability–through Christ–to love in such a way that offers healing to people and situations in great need. That includes the big picture–politics and international policies–and the small picture–our lonely neighbor, our family member starving for a word of affirmation, the child in need of some attention. It’s the eastern religions that are stuck in “the human predicament of suffering” with no hope. The Christian religion offers hope despite the tremendous suffering of the world. It was the Man of Sorrows who said, “In this world you will have tribulation. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” And so I would say to you, my friend, I know your sorrows and sufferings are real. And the things that you mourn are worthy of being mourned. But “to hurt for love” is NOT “the only means by which a man can give his beloved its due.” Another way a man can give his beloved its due is to, in the case of an idea (eg., liberty) fight and work for its existence and expansion. In the case of giving a beloved person his due, is to honor that person by emulating his best qualities and living those qualities out as best as one is able. Always we give the beloved a place in our hearts which remembers, honors, and causes us to take action for the ideals of the beloved. And this is often painful. To remember what was or what should be and is not, hurts. But it is not useless suffering, it is redemptive suffering. The Man of Sorrows shows us the way in His own redemptive suffering.

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