In If God Is Good, I share a story that John Stott tells in his book The Cross of Christ about billions of people seated on a great plain before God’s throne. Most shrank back, while some crowded to the front, raising angry voices.
“Can God judge us? How can He know about suffering?” snapped one woman, ripping a sleeve to reveal a tattooed number from a Nazi concentration camp. “We endured terror... beatings... torture... death!”
Other sufferers expressed their complaints against God for the evil and suffering he had permitted. What did God know of weeping, hunger, and hatred? God leads a sheltered life in Heaven, they said.
Someone from Hiroshima, people born deformed, others murdered, each sent forward a leader. They concluded that before God could judge them, he should be sentenced to live on Earth as a man to endure the suffering they had endured. Then they pronounced a sentence:
Let him be born a Jew. Let the legitimacy of his birth be doubted. Let his close friends betray him. Let him face false charges. Let a prejudiced jury try him and a cowardly judge convict him. Let him be tortured. Let him be utterly alone. Then, bloody and forsaken, let him die.
The room grew silent after the sentence against God had been pronounced. No one moved, and a weight fell on each face.
For suddenly, all knew that God already had served his sentence.
Some people can’t believe God would create a world in which people would suffer so much. Isn’t it more remarkable that God would create a world in which no one would suffer more than he?
God’s Son bore no guilt of his own; he bore ours. In his love for us, God self-imposed the sentence of death on our behalf. One thing we must never say about God—that he doesn’t understand what it means to be abandoned utterly, suffer terribly, and die miserably.
That God did this willingly, with ancient premeditation, is all the more remarkable. Jesus said, “I lay down my life for the sheep.... No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:15, 18).