I wonder, how does the suffering of Jesus/God show love?

I do not believe that Jesus suffered to forgive our sins. If God is love, God doesn't need to make a terrible sacrifice to forgive our sins. God can forgive without it. This explanation is really inconceivable to me.

It seems to me like part of the answer is to show that God suffers with us and that we don't suffer alone, but this answer doesn't completely satisfy me either.

  • Do you only want answers from a Catholic perspective or are Orthodox and Protestant answers okay too? Or even restorationist answers (like LDS)?
    – curiousdannii
    Jun 16, 2014 at 9:35
  • Any perspective interests me. I am interested in a meaningful answer for me.
    – Eden
    Jun 16, 2014 at 14:10
  • 1
    Don't forget that love is only one of God's attributes. I'd question the whole "God is Love" statement as a false premise... That view of God is pretty thin and ignores attributes like God is Just. If a human judge turned a blind eye to evil, would you call that just? No, a judge that turns ablind eye to lawbreakers is corrupt. In the same way, a Just God must punish sin. Jun 17, 2014 at 4:49

4 Answers 4


Short answer:

The reason is, that Jesus' suffered and died in our place.

This is how the bible puts it in Romans 5:6-8 ESV:

6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (emphasis added)

By way of further explanation:

The bible tells us that suffering and death entered the world (and persists in it) because of mankind's sin - that is, our deliberate rebellion against God's perfect way of doing what is right. Sin is massively problematic, not just in it's short term effects (immediate victims), but in it's long term consequences (for instance, our very identity becomes limited by our warped behaviour) and also the fact that, by it's nature, it excludes from (our) consideration the Great Source of Life, Truth and Healing who could remedy the situation - the loving Heavenly Father and Creator that we have rebelled against. Suffering (and ultimately death) is both a consequence of sin, but also a judgment against it - God uses it to discipline, restrain and ultimately stop us from multiplying sin and wickedness indefinitely. If God were to 'just forgive us', it would not solve the underlying problem of the sin nature in us - we would continue to sin more and more and continue to suffer the consequences for doing so. The fundamental problems to solve, are our separation from God and our sinful nature.

Though we would not turn to God to solve our sin problem, God did not leave us to our devices without a remedy, but came in the person of His Son, to live amongst us - showing us what the Heavenly Father is like and also experiencing our humanity - including weakness, suffering and death. The suffering and death that Jesus endured were not a consequence of His own sin, as He was perfect in all His ways and always did the things that please the Heavenly Father, rather, they were entered into willingly as a substitionary offering to take on the suffering and death that all mankind deserves.

As Isaiah puts it:

4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. - Isaiah 53:4-6 ESV

Since Jesus has paid this price, we now have the opportunity to renew a relationship with God and receive 'salvation' - this word contains many ideas, but it's essence is directed at the complete reversal of the problem of sin and the consequences of sin including suffering and death. We can by faith, receive healing from God and eternal life. Because of the long-term effects of sin on this world, we may still experience temporal suffering to a degree (though it's impact will be greatly lessened to the faith-filled salvation-receivers) and physical death, but we have a promise of resurrection to a new life completely free of suffering and death - all because of what Jesus has done.

An Illustration:

You may still be thinking, how does this 'show love'? perhaps the following will help -

Imagine being someone trying to pay a mortgage off on a house. And through your own fault - even against the advice of those who love you, you spend way beyond your means to the point that you run up large amounts of other debts and can no longer afford to buy even food. You will suffer in the short term as you haven't kept enough money for food. You may experience further suffering as various items are repossessed that you cannot make payments for. You will also suffer anxiety and apprehension that you will be evicted if you cannot make your mortgage payments. Now imagine, that the one who loves you the most, sees your distress and pays all your debts including your mortgage - the cost (suffering) to them is large, they had no obligation to do this, they did it anyway. They further offer that if you sign over the deeds of your house, you can come and live with them permanently in a much better place that is entirely free of the consequences your mistakes. There is a wing of their mansion already prepared for you, all you need to do is sign over the paperwork and do a bit of spring-cleaning before you move - the one who loves you will even come and help you do the cleaning! Of course, you are not forced to this, you could just re-mortgage your house to finance your previous lifestyle, and spurn their kind offer; You could conceivably even refuse their help in the first place and insist that you will (somehow!) pay your own debts. In both these latter cases, the end result will no doubt involve a great deal more suffering.

That is a very limited and inadequate picture of what Jesus has done in our place.

Disclaimer: though I am a Protestant, I seek to write not (merely) from that perspective, but from an orthodox (in the wider sense) Christian perspective that includes the Catholic view. (as well as Eastern Orthodox etc.) If I have not faithfully done that, I welcome any correction.

  • I do feel that your answer touches me. Not because of the words, but because it seems like it comes from a personal place. Could you please be more personal and say how did you feel it personally, and how can I get to feel this myself.
    – Eden
    Jun 17, 2014 at 5:18
  • Yes, it is personal for me: I grew up in a Christian family and heard stories from the bible and about Jesus, but though as a child I may have simply accepted them as being true, it did not stop me growing up to be a sinner because knowledge wasn't mixed with faith. By the time I was 10, I knew there were things that I personally felt were wrong and also displeased God, yet I did them anyway. In that context, when I heard what Jesus had done for me, it grieved me enough to cry out - 'Lord, I'm sorry, please forgive me, I want to turn from these things and live for you'... Jun 17, 2014 at 6:27
  • In a way I can't fully explain, I found after praying, I immediately knew that God had heard my prayer, forgiven my sin, given me a new heart and came to live in it because I trusted in what Jesus had done. Since that time, I have not been perfect, I still have the capacity to choose to do what is wrong, but I find that God has never left me and my love for Him and faith in Him has been growing more and more through the passage of years. I find that I want to do what is right, not because of what other people would think of me, or what I would think of myself, but to please the God I love. Jun 17, 2014 at 6:33
  • All this isn't just a theory or a philosophy for me, it has been the gateway to an intimate relationship with a living God. The bible promises us that this kind of experience is open to any who would seek it with all their heart - as Jesus calls out: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me." Jun 17, 2014 at 6:39
  • Yesterday, after reading your post, I thought of all the troubles and pain, I have in life. I got a strong feeling that god is there with me all the time sending people and things to my help. Doubt is strong and debilitating, and maybe natural. This is the state of things for me now anyway. Anyway this trust gave me much strength , as I spoke to my wife, as difficult as it was, and we got a very healing conversation. In this conversation I felt remarkably clear and sensitive about her feelings and behavior, as I never did.
    – Eden
    Jun 17, 2014 at 12:43

Note: The quotes I offer here are taken from the 1983 Catechism of the Catholic Church. There is an online version here. Numbers are the paragraph numbers for each point.

601 The Scriptures had foretold this divine plan of salvation through the putting to death of “the righteous one, my Servant” as a mystery of universal redemption, that is, as the ransom that would free men from the slavery of sin. Citing a confession of faith that he himself had "received," St. Paul professes that "Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures." In particular Jesus' redemptive death fulfills Isaiah's prophecy of the suffering Servant. Indeed Jesus himself explained the meaning of his life and death in the light of God’s suffering Servant. After his Resurrection he gave this interpretation of the Scriptures to the disciples at Emmaus, and then to the apostles.
602 Consequently, St. Peter can formulate the apostolic faith in the divine plan of salvation in this way: "You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers... with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was destined before the foundation of the world but was made manifest at the end of the times for your sake." Man's sins, following on original sin, are punishable by death. By sending his own Son in the form of a slave, in the form of a fallen humanity, on account of sin, God "made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."
604 By giving up his own Son for our sins, God manifests that his plan for us is one of benevolent love, prior to any merit on our part: "In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins." God “shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us."
605 At the end of the parable of the lost sheep Jesus recalled that God’s love excludes no one: "So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish." He affirms that he came "to give his life as a ransom for many"; this last term is not restrictive, but contrasts the whole of humanity with the unique person of the redeemer who hands himself over to save us. The Church, following the apostles, teaches that Christ died for all men without exception: "There is not, never has been, and never will be a single human being for whom Christ did not suffer."

This gets into the whole "original sin" discussion, which is a bookful in itself. But I hope the idea is clear: There is a sort of debt we owe as humans, something that each of us owes individually and collectively. What God did for us is to show his love for us in the deepest and most intimate way possible, by becoming one of us, and as one of us giving up his life to clear this debt.

One more quote from the Catechism:

618 The cross is the unique sacrifice of Christ, the "one mediator between God and men." But because in his incarnate divine person he has in some way united himself to every man, "the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the paschal mystery" is offered to all men. He calls his disciples to "take up [their] cross and follow [him]," for "Christ also suffered for [us], leaving [us] an example so that [we] should follow in his steps." In fact Jesus desires to associate with his redeeming sacrifice those who were to be its first beneficiaries. This is achieved supremely in the case of his mother, who was associated more intimately than any other person in the mystery of his redemptive suffering.
Apart from the cross there is no other ladder by which we may get to heaven.

By Jesus' sacrifice, then, we're invited to accept the possibility of sacrifice in our own lives. Not just any sacrifice, either. I mean, if God Himself could sacrifice His Own life, then how big, really, are the little sacrifices we are asked to do? Even sacrificing our own lives is not too big for God to ask.

There's a lot more to Jesus' death for us than this, and a lot more (for example) in the Catechism, which you might want to take a quick look over. Here is the beginning of the section (the "article") on the death and resurrection of Jesus.

It looks like I did more actual quotation than explication here; but I hope this serves as a beginning at least.


How loving is it to not give someone justice for being wronged? If I killed your close family member, would it be loving for someone to simply say "that's too bad" and not atone for the murder of your family?

Love does not just require grace, but also justice. Doing wrong has a very real cost, both emotionally and physically and that slack has to be picked up somewhere. By taking the suffering and wages (cost) of sin on Himself, Jesus resolved the wrongs done to others with both grace and justice.

Justice in that the costs were paid but grace in that he choose to fix it rather than requiring us to.

  • +1, I touched on this very lightly in my answer - I honor you for making it more explicit. Jun 16, 2014 at 21:12
I wonder, how does the suffering of Jesus/God show love.
I cannot believe that Jesus suffered to forgive our sins.

Indeed, his love should be defined by more than whether Jesus died to forgive our sins. Rhoads, Dewey and Michie say, in Mark as Story, page 113, that the modern reader needs to be cautious not to read into Mark theological meanings that later came to be associated with Jesus' death. Although their admonition referred specifically to Mark's Gospel, the same of course applies to the other gospels of the New Testament. And this is where the authors address this part of our question (ibid):

Mark does not portray Jesus' death as a sacrifice for sin. Mark portrays Jesus already pardoning sin during his life and authorizing others to do the same. His death is not needed to make forgiveness possible.

Acts 10:43 assures us that belief in Jesus is the sole prerequisite for forgiveness of sins, with no suggestion here that his death was a prior necessity: "To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins."

A single New Testament reference explains the belief in forgiveness of sins through the death of Jesus (Colossians 1:14): "In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins." In Who Wrote the New Testament, page 183, Burton L. Mack says the letter to the Colossians is not authentic, with most New Testament scholars dating the epistle to the 70s of the first century, which consequently places some doubt on the authenticity of the epistle's theology.

Bible Life Ministries states that the Bible says that on the cross Jesus took upon Himself the sins of the whole world, which is of course a reference to Colossians 1:14. Colossians links salvation (redemption) to the death of Jesus, but Bible Life Ministries says that is false, since individual salvation comes from faith in the resurrection of Jesus. Charles Swindoll (How Does the Death of Jesus Save Me) says that we are saved because Christ died on the cross as our substitute, and calls this 'substitutionary atonement'.

To have died willingly for the forgiveness of sins must be an act of love, if our sins could never otherwise be forgiven. The belief that the crucifixion was necessary for the forgiveness of sins seems to have started with Colossians, an epistle of uncertain origin. As stated in the question, this is really inconceivable.

  • Nice. I like this answer . It actually implies for me, that suffering is not necessary for forgiveness.
    – Eden
    Mar 8, 2015 at 12:19

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