The Suffering God




Several years ago, I was teaching a class on the basics of Christian theology, which included a session on the theology of the Cross.  

Not to get too deep into the weeds, but my teaching that day was heavily influenced by Jurgen Moltmann's The Crucified God, which is one of the very best books I have read on the subject. 

Moltmann's entire premise is grounded in Trinitarian theology, which means that through Jesus (embodying the eternal, universal Christ, the second "person" of the Trinity) God is crucified on the Cross.  

This simply means that God suffers. God experiences the loss of God.  God feels the unimaginable pain and loss of betrayal.  And yes, God dies.  All because it is God (in Christ) hanging on the Cross, taking on the worst the world has to offer. 

When I shared this with my class, there was stunned silence as they took it all in.  And then someone quietly said in the stillness, "This changes everything for me."  

I completely understood the reason for what they said because I'd had a similar epiphany some years before, and it rocked my world.  

But I have also come to understand that not everyone buys into this, believe it or not.  The idea of a suffering God is hard for a lot of Christians to embrace, especially in the U.S. 

Americans want a triumphant God, a God who is a warrior---fighting our battles, defeating all enemies, and then standing like Superman with arms akimbo and a small victorious smile on his face. 

To be fair, there are plenty of those kinds of images throughout Scripture.  

But there are as many or more images of God in both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament where God stands with the oppressed, mourns with the grief-stricken, and is heartbroken over tragedy and injustice. 

The Gospel accounts show us what that looks like most clearly through the stories of Jesus' life and ministry.  

Not only did Jesus show care and concern for those on the outside looking in, but he also taught his followers that the journey toward true success in the kingdom of God is a race to the bottom---where they lose their lives in order to find them.  

In his book The Universal Christ, Fr. Richard Rohr wrote this about the image of a suffering God: 
Suffering people can love and trust a suffering God. Only a suffering God can “save” suffering people. Any other god becomes a guilty bystander. 
There is much wisdom in this simple statement.  Far too many Christians either grow weary of defending God when bad things happen to good people, and some of them walk away from their faith altogether. 

Or they go a different direction and give in to the temptation to create an image of a triumphant, mighty God who cannot be questioned---a God that is above everything, including our suffering.  

This can lead to people believing that if they just have enough faith everything will work out the way they want it to, which leaves them feeling guilty and ashamed if it doesn't.  

Fr. Richard asserts that when we learn to embrace the idea of a God who suffers with us, it can change the way we see everything, and can also fashion us into change agents, and peacemakers in our own right.  He writes:  
Those who have passed across this chasm can and will save one another. 

I don't know about you, but that is some seriously good news.  May it be so for you today, too.  May you know that even in your worst moments you are held by a God who understands you completely--a God who never leaves your side. 

May the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.  

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