I recently read “Shaped by the Cross: Meditations on the Sufferings of Jesus” by Ken Gire. My initial response in reading the subtitle (meditations on the sufferings of Jesus) was: “Really? Another book about Jesus’ suffering?”. Along with me you may wonder why Christians write books, make movies, and in general bring so much attention to Jesus‘ suffering. Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross has always been a central feature to the Christian faith. Are Christians just masochists?SUFFERING IN A FALLEN WORLD
Though there are many reasons one could argue that Christians talk about Jesus’ suffering so much, the most important reason personally is that suffering is part of life in this fallen world. Suffering is part of my own personal experience. This being true, it is very significant to me that I cling to the idea that God is not distant and untouched by the world’s pain. God himself became flesh and suffered. He suffered intensely and meaningfully.
“Shaped by the Cross” is a book inspired by Michelangelo’s arguably most beautiful sculpture: the Pieta. The sculpture portrays Jesus’ dead body removed from the cross, lying in the arms of his mother. It is unquestionably one of the most popular pieces of art in history. Each chapter literally and metaphorically looks at the Pieta from a different angle.SCULPTING HIS PEOPLE
The most personally significant section in the book focuses on Michelangelo’s sculpting of this statue as a metaphor for God’s sculpting of His people into the image of his Son. What follows are some excerpts:
“The way God works is similar to the way Michelangelo worked, as he used different tools to achieve different results. He used the hammer, which was his primary tool, along with a variety of pointed chisels that he used to shape the block. Some chisels had serrated edges. Others were flat. Each had its own role in shaping the marble, its own special use, however slight. He also had an assortment of rasps and abrasives.
The tools of a torturer. Or so it seems.
From the perspective of the onlooker, when the artist begins his work, every blow from the hammer seems a random act of violence, every bite of the chisel a senseless act of vandalism.
From the perspective of the slab, the blows it receives are even more difficult to comprehend. Who can blame the marble for not being able to make sense of what is happening to it? Who can blame it for its questions and its reactions? The waste seems so senseless. What purpose did it serve? What good did it accomplish? And who is the strange being that wields such a cruel hammer in one hand and such a cold chisel in the other?”
Michelangelo himself wrote a poem about sculpting:
“The more the marble wastes,
The more the statue grows.”
Later, Gire says: “The work is now more sculpture than it is slab. The stone sees that something eternal is emerging from its embedded resistance. More and more it yields to the beauty it is becoming. To the beauty it is becoming.”
These words resonate with me. Suffering can seem so meaningless. The experience of suffering seems to almost demand the question: “What purpose could this possibly serve?”. I often feel like that slab of marble that asks “why?”.AN ENDURING HOPE
The metaphor of Michelangelo sculpting his work of art is as important as any image I have come across, in regards to dealing with a good God whom allows such deep pain. I must cling to the idea that no matter how much the pain seems senseless and confusing, that as a Christian, God is making me into a work of art (Eph. 3:10) more beautiful than the Pieta. Though sometimes I wish God would just give up his project and leave me an unformed slab, I must hold on to the idea that God’s artistic work will be more than worth it in the end. This is hope to persevere.
I highly recommend “Shaped by the Cross” to anyone whom might also recognize the value in meditating on the sufferings of Jesus.