The Wall Street Journal is reporting this morning that a passenger train in Taiwan derailed today, killing more than three dozen people and trapping more than seventy others. It is the island’s deadliest rail accident in decades.
Officials say the eight-car train might have hit a construction vehicle that had stopped on the tracks.
The suffering of Jim Caviezel
It is terribly appropriate for such a horrible tragedy to occur on Good Friday, the most somber day of the Christian year. This is the day Jesus was tried and convicted illegally by the religious leaders of his nation, then whipped, tortured, and nailed to a cross to die.
You may have seen Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. It is the most realistic depiction of Jesus’ suffering I have seen on film.
Jim Caviezel, the committed Christian who played Jesus, spoke after the movie was completed about the injuries he suffered. He was accidentally whipped twice, leaving a fourteen-inch scar on his back, and he dislocated his shoulder from the weight of the cross. He contracted hypothermia and pneumonia while hanging on the cross.
In one scene, Caviezel appears to have a blue coloration of his skin. This was not a special effect. It was due to asphyxiation, which is the typical cause of death for victims of crucifixion. Prolonged suspension by the arms in this position can make breathing very difficult and cause slow suffocation. According to scholars, victims died from a combination of suffocation, heart failure, exposure, dehydration, lung embolism, and sepsis from infected wounds endured from flogging and the nails of crucifixion.
Jesus chose all of this. In the Garden of Gethsemane the previous night, he had every opportunity to flee with his life. He knew that Judas would betray him and that the soldiers were coming to arrest him. He could have appealed to his Father to “send me more than twelve legions of angels” (Matthew 26:53) or he could have retreated back home to Galilee. So long as he was not a threat in Jerusalem, the religious authorities there would likely have stopped their pursuit of him.
When I lead study tours to Israel, we always visit the Garden of Gethsemane. We look out over the Kidron Valley to the eastern wall of the Old City of Jerusalem. We envision soldiers marching in line by torchlight, down the valley and up the slopes of the Mount of Olives. We watch as Jesus watches them come, choosing to die on a cross that we might live eternally.
He did all of that, just for you. He would do all of that again, just for you.
A nine-year-old boy died in his mother’s arms
The derailment in Taiwan is not the only tragedy in this morning’s news.
Fox News is reporting that the suspect who killed four people and injured a fifth in an office complex in California last Wednesday knew all of the victims personally. One of them was a nine-year-old boy who apparently died in his mother’s arms as she tried to save him. Meanwhile, CBS News tells us that COVID-19 cases are spiking in Michigan, fueled by infections among children and teenagers.
I honestly don’t know why an all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful God allows such suffering. Take the derailment in Taiwan, for example. God obviously knew the accident would happen before it did. He loves each of the victims so much he sent his Son to die for them. If he could create the universe with a spoken word, calm stormy seas, resuscitate dead bodies, and raise his Son from the dead, he is clearly powerful enough to stop a train derailment and spare its passengers.
It is a fact that our broken world is the cause of much of our suffering (Romans 8:22). Gravity, propulsion, and other realities of nature caused the tragedy in Taiwan. If God intervened every time physical laws could cause someone pain, there would be no physical laws.
Misused free will causes much suffering as well, as in the California tragedy and other mass shootings in Georgia and Colorado. If God intervened every time someone could use their free will to harm others, there would be no free will.
My father’s early death
However, God does sometimes intervene. He saved Peter from Herod’s plot to kill him (Acts 12:3–11), but he did not spare James the same fate (v. 2). Jesus healed a leper who sought his help (Matthew 8:1–4), but presumably he did not heal all lepers. He opened one man’s blind eyes (John 9:1–7), but he did not end all blindness.
A member of one of the churches I pastored had open heart surgery and could not be revived. After the doctors pronounced him dead, his heart inexplicably began beating again and he returned to life. We were and are convinced that God healed him in response to our prayers.
And yet, my father died of a heart attack at the age of fifty-five despite my fervent prayers for him over many years. I still grieve his early death and the fact that my father never met my sons. He would have been a wonderful grandfather.
I don’t know all the reasons why our Father in heaven does not prevent all our suffering. But I do know this: he suffers with us. Good Friday proves that it is so.
Why Good Friday still matters
Why was Jesus executed by crucifixion? God in his providence could have arranged for his Son to die by stoning, as with Stephen (Acts 7). Or he could have arranged for Jesus to be beheaded, which is how Rome executed its citizens and was presumably how Paul died.
Instead, he arranged for his Son to die in the cruelest, most horrific manner ever devised. Crucifixion is so terrible that it is illegal in most nations today.
As a result, it is a literal and logical fact that you can feel no suffering greater than what Jesus felt. The One who was tempted in every way we are (Hebrews 4:15) felt every pain we feel. Our Lord grieves as we grieve (John 11:35) and walks with us through every valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4). You can “cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7 RSV).
The fact of Jesus’ solidarity with our suffering matters. It matters to me that my Father loved my father even more than I did and is redeeming his death in ways I will not understand on this side of heaven.
It matters that Jesus died in the most painful manner ever devised so that we can trust our greatest pain to his providential grace. And it matters that he redeems all he allows, on earth and especially in heaven.
What pain, grief, or guilt are you carrying today? Take it to the cross. Ask Jesus to reveal his empathy, compassion, and love for you. Ask him to heal you, or forgive you, or sustain you, or do whatever you need most.
If he would die for you, what won’t he do for you?
This is the promise of Good Friday. Will you claim it for yourself today?
NOTE: If you live in the Dallas Metroplex area, please consider joining me tonight for Dallas Baptist University’s Good Friday service at 7 p.m. I will be delivering the message in Pilgrim Chapel. Face masks will be required, and seating will be socially distanced. Please RSVP at dbu.edu/easter. I look forward to seeing you there as we celebrate why this Friday is so “good.”