OneRepublic’s song “Human” is about a man who’d fallen out of contact with God and now turns to Him when things are going badly. They “had a conversation” where the singer asks questions and pours out his frustrations. Then God “said the strangest thing.”
He said, “How does it feel to be human?
Do some of the best plans you make get ruined?
Do people curse you when flowers ain’t blooming?
How does it feel?”
He said, “How does it feel to be human?
If I could for one day I just might do it
Dance ’til the sun comes up to my music
How does it feel?”
While OneRepublic doesn’t sing “Christian music,” the band members are Christians and they know just as well as we do that God does have experience being human as Jesus Christ. But even knowing that, I think most of us can identify with the feeling in this song. We know Jesus lived as a human. But sometimes we still don’t feel like He can fully sympathize with exactly how hard it is. That it must have been easier/different for Him since He was fully God at the same time He was fully human.
Even More Than Salvation
If someone asked you why Jesus became human, most of us would say, “To save us” (or some variation on that idea). And that’s certainly accurate, for “Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15, WEB). That is not, however, the only reason He came to this earth.
Some of the other reasons Jesus gave for Him coming into the world include preaching the gospel (Mark 1:38; Luke 4:43) and witnessing to truth (John 18:37). As we read through the gospels, it becomes clear that the work given to Jesus by the Father involved more than “just” dying in our place to cleanse us from sin. I hate saying “just” becasue salvation is such an incredible gift on its own that it should blow our minds. But Jesus wanted to do even more for us. And one of the things He wanted to do was learn how it feels to be human.
Feeling Our Feelings
We learn about this part of Jesus’ work during His human life from the writer of Hebrews. The “author of our salvation” “was obligated in all things to be made like his brothers, that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make atonement for the sins of the people” (Heb. 2:10, 17, WEB). Jesus’ experiences as human connected Him with us.
For we don’t have a high priest who can’t be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but one who has been in all points tempted like we are, yet without sin. (Heb. 4:15, WEB)
The phrase “be touched with the feeling” is translated from a single Greek word: sumpatheo (G4834). It means “to be affected with the same feeling as another.” He felt the same things we feel, and that gives Jesus a level of sympathy that it seems God didn’t have before He saw how it feels to be human as a human.
Interestingly, this is also a level of sympathy that goes beyond what most humans naturally have toward each other. When talking about human high priests just a few sentences later, the writer says they can have compassion on people. That word is metriopatheo (G3356). It means to bear with another’s faults gently becasue you don’t let them affect you too much. That’s a sharp contrast to the depth of understanding conveyed in Jesus feeling along with us.
Filling Up Suffering
There are a few things Jesus couldn’t experience directly while living as a human. He doesn’t know first-hand what it’s like to sin, though He saw sin’s affect on others all around Him. I doubt He experienced uncertainty about whether something was right or wrong, since He kept the mind He’d had when He was God. (And I’m guessing this is another part of what OneRepublic was thinking when they wrote this song and suggested God might wonder what it would be like to not be blamed and cursed for things like “flowers ain’t blooming.) But Jesus got as close to being human as He possibly could while still being Himself. And I think, in a certain way, He’s still with us experiencing what it feels like to be human.
I’m about to float a controversial suggestion about something Paul wrote. In Colossians, he said he rejoices in his sufferings, “and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church” (Col. 1:24, NKJV). The commentaries I looked at interpret this as Paul feeling he hadn’t yet suffered enough, because they say it’s clear there was nothing deficient about Jesus’ sufferings for us (Is. 53:3-6).
I want to suggest that maybe Paul wasn’t talking about Jesus’ sufferings as related to His salvation work on the cross. Maybe he was talking about the experiences Christ had as a human being and the fact that He didn’t experience every single type of suffering that humans can go through first-hand. Perhaps Jesus made provision in His church — His human body in the world today — to “fill up” the things He couldn’t experience Himself (like childbirth, being imprisoned for months, cancer, being paraplegic, having epilepsy, losing a spouse, developing Alzheimer’s, etc.).
Cycles of Sympathy and Comfort
There is one other passage that supports the idea that God works in our sufferings to help us and then uses our experiences with suffering to help others in Jesus’ body.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ. Now if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effective for enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer. Or if we are comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation.(2 Cor. 1:3-6, WEB)
I think this sounds as if there’s a cycle going on between us, our High Priest, and the rest of His body. When we suffer, He feels with us and comforts us. That suffering, and His reaction to it, enables us to also practice sympathy and comfort. And when this is happening in a whole church, then we’ll all be working together to comfort, feel with, and build each other up as part of Christ’s body.
Through us, maybe Jesus continues to experience what it feels like to be human and He teaches us how to use our experiences in this life the way He did — to understand and help other people. And so we learn to interact with sympathy, as He does, and not just the patient compassion of human priests in the past.
Jesus Has Been There, Too
Whether or not those thoughts I just shared resonated with you, the fact remains that we do have “a merciful and faithful high priest” who, “in that he himself has suffered being tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted” (Heb. 2:17-18, WEB)
Let us therefore draw near with boldness to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy, and may find grace for help in time of need. (Heb. 4:16, WEB)
Jesus knows how we struggle because He struggled too. He understands our suffering becasue He suffered too. He even knows how it feels to have desires that are in conflict with God’s plan (Matt. 26:39). He knows what it feels like to be human becasue He was human. And we can cling to these truths when we feel alone or misunderstood, knowing God really does understand how it feels.