SO, YOU SEE, IT isn't necessary to explain away a great deal, if you want to persuade yourself that our Lord never experienced human suffering. There were heretics in early days, as I think I told you before, who thought that; who made out that our Lord didn't really become a man at his Incarnation; he only wore a kind of phantom body, something like a ghost. And in our own day the Christian Scientists - the people who tell you that you haven't really got a toothache, you've only got a stupid idea that you've got a toothache, and therefore the best thing to do is to pray about it, instead of going to the dentist - the Christian Scientists would tell you that our Lord didn't suffer. Oh, no, he was perfectly wise, and therefore he knew that there was no such thing as suffering, and that is why he went about persuading the blind people that they weren't blind, and the lepers that they weren't lepers, and Lazarus that he wasn't dead. If you are perfectly holy, they say, then you must be perfectly healthy. And, you know, it's good Catholic theology, though I don't know whether it's a matter of faith, that our Lord while he was on earth never suffered from any disease. His human body was such a perfect thing that it couldn;t go wrong of its own accord; it was only when he treated it roughly (or when other people treated it roughly) that it could enter into Adam's uncomfortable legacy of pain.
However, there it is; our Lord was hungry, was tired, did suffer, even before Pontius Pilate comes into the picture at all. And at the same time his whole life, as it is recorded for us in the Gospels, is a kind of campaign against suffering - no more blind, no more deaf, no more lame, no more paralytics, no more lepers - that seems to be his ideal. Now, you ask yourself, is suffering a good thing or a bad thing? If it is a good thing, why did he spend so much of his time in making it disappear from the countryside round him, when he might have been attending, instead, to the needs of people's souls? And if suffering is a bad thing, why did he bring upon himself - for it is evident all through that he brought it on himself - a death attended by such crowded circumstances of pain? What are we to make of suffering ourselves? Is it a thing to run away from, or is it a thing we ought to welcome? He suffered; our Lord suffered; what about his servants?
Well, let us take the answer to that question bit by bit. In the first place, suffering is of its own nature a bad thing, not a good thing. When I say that it's a bad thing, I don't mean of course that it's wicked to have a toothache; I don't want to have you coming round to me on Saturday evening and confessing that you've had a slight attack of neuralgia. I mean that suffering is an imperfection, brought into this world of ours by the fall of man: it's a blot on creation, it degrades us. And therefore, in the presence of a very good person, suffering tends to run away and hide itself; when our Lord met a leper, the leprosy couldn't maintain itself, it fled from his presence. And so it has been in the lives of his saints. You can read in the Bible how a dead man was being carried out to burial once, when a party of invading Syrians appeared; and the undertaker and his assistants thought it would be a good thing to cut short the funeral procession, so they dropped the corpse into the nearest tomb they could see. It happened to be the tomb of the prophet Elisha, who had just died. And the dead man immediately came to life. Death, you may say, couldn't bear to find itself anywhere near anyone as holy as Elisha, just as the undertaker couldn't bear to be near a party of invading Syrians. Death said (as it were), "Oh, gosh, I can't stand this," and ran away, leaving the man to come to life. That's putting it rather crudely, but you see what I mean; suffering is of its own nature an evil, and it tends to disappear when it is brought into contact with a very holy person, just as darkness disappears when you bring a candle into a room. (Continued in Pt. 3)
- Ronald A. Knox