Graham Tomlin on Jesus, Suffering, and Mission

When the world turns away from the God whose Spirit gives life, it chooses the opposite: death. Because God loves the world so much that he is determined not to abandon it to its fate, he chooses to enter that world in human form to take upon himself the consequences of that fateful human choice, to triumph over it once and for all, to open the way back to life. That is what God’s love does. Without the fall the incarnation would surely still have happened, as creation was always intended as the arena for the coming of God, yet it would not have resulted in a cross. The cross only becomes necessary as the inevitable outcome of God entering a broken world not just to complete and crown it but heal it of its wounds, to overcome the consequences of its rebellion. Naturally we are not called to die for the sins of the world. We do not overcome death by our death. However, if we are truly to become one with Christ, that will not only mean knowing the love of the Father, it will also involve a vocation to join in some way in his sufferings for the healing of the world (Rom. 8:17; Col. 1:24). Our attempts to be the channels of God’s salvation to theworld through acts of kindness, mercy, forgiveness, alleviating poverty, washing ugly wounds, cleaning smelly drains, visiting awkward neighbors and so on will at times be hard, tiresome and even painful.

And yet that is the shape that love takes in a fallen world. It is as weenter into the suffering of a broken world, as we become one with the crucified Christ in the Spirit, ‘sharing in his sufferings’ that we know the fullness of the Father’s love, so that that we can also know his resurrection life…To pray the prayer ‘Come Holy Spirit’ is a wonderful, but perhaps also a sombre thing to do. It is wonderful because it asks God to draw us into the same relationship of love that Jesus had with the Father. It is sombre because it is asking God to draw us into the same relationship that Jesus has with the world, which led him to a cross. When the Spirit unites us with Christ he beckons us to walk on the path blazed by the divine Son of God, through the cross to resurrection, a path that ends at the right hand of God with Christ ‘in his glory’ (Rom. 8:17). The cross is the shape that the love of God takes in a fallen world.

—Graham Tomlin, The Prodigal Spirit: The Trinity, the Church, and the Future of the World

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