brief thoughts on suffering and theology
That the central event in the Christian faith is the life, death and resurrection of Jesus should lead to, among many things, reflection on how we approach theological thought about contemporary issues.
Indeed, God came to us in the form of a human named Jesus, and thus he suffered as a human. He probably grazed his knees as a child. He probably gashed his hand as a carpenter. He most definitely mourned the death of loved ones.
And of course he suffered when he was crucified.
It seems that the clearest revelation of God we have explicitly models him suffering with others who are both socially and ontologically inferior. Should this model serve as an example to us of how possibly to approach theology?
Theologian Jurgen Moltmann says:
Suffering … precedes the answers of Christian theology – the open questions precede the answers of Christian theology. It is not possible to express God before the world without first and at the same time expressing the world before God.*
That is to say that theology cannot be done as distinct from living in a world filled with suffering. This is not because such theological work is practically impossible (one can ignore the suffering), but because such suffering is an interpretive key to seeing things through the lens of the cross, the ultimate act of God’s solidarity with humans.
The recent documentary Go Back To Where You Came From may provide us with a non-theological example of suffering in solidarity affecting one’s understanding and perspective. Six participants journeyed in a way comparable to refugees and most ended up having their thinking deeply transformed by the experience.
In the first part of a recent blog series on homosexuality and the Bible I made the point that those who work with AIDS patients often have a very different way of “doing” theology than those confined to academia. There is something powerful about getting one’s hands dirty that makes us think about issues differently, including in theology.
The most profound theological event in history was that God came and suffered and died with us. What then are we to make of the modern hyper-aversion to suffering? If we will do anything to avoid suffering, will we fully meet with God? And if we do not fully meet God, can our theology be whole?
To end I will quote an in some ways provocative statement from Michael Northcott, whom I spoke of in my last post:
… the suffering, and not the powerful, hold the key to history. In their radical dependence on God, on one another and on natural systems, the poor and the exiled know, as the rich do not, that history is not in human hands.**
* Jurgen Moltmann, Hope and Planning, 35.
** Michael Northcott, A Moral Climate: The Ethics of Global Warming, 42.
Posted on July 19, 2011, in Hermeneutics, Theology and tagged Crucifixion, Death of Christ, Hermeneutics, Incarnation, Jesus, Jurgen Moltmann, Michael Northcott, Solidarity, Suffering, Theology. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.