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Moltmannia: Suffering With God

September 3, 2009

One of the most arresting Moltmann assertions that I look forward to asking him about is his contention that theodicy is a contrivance.  In Moltmann’s considered view– and in his chastened experience–  no one who suffers loss or violence truly asks “How can God let this happen to me?” in a kind of critique of the divine.  No one posits philosophical questions such as, “How can a good God allow evil to befall innocent victims?”  No, Moltmann says, what humans ask in those moments of pain is rather, “Where is God?  Is God here in this pain?”

Anyone who suffers without cause first thinks that he has been forsaken by God.  God seems to him to be the mysterious, incomprehensible God who destroys the good fortune that he gave.  But anyone who cries out to God in this suffering echoes the death-cry of the dying Christ, the Son of God.  In that case God is not just a hidden someone set over against him, to whom he cries, but in a profound sense the human God, who cries with him and intercedes for him with his cross where man in his torment is dumb.  The one who suffers is not just angry and furious and full of protest against his fate.  He suffers because he lives, and he is alive because he loves.  The person who can no longer love, even himself, no longer suffers, for he is without grief, without feeling and indifferent.

…But the more one loves, the more one is open and becomes receptive to happiness and sorrow.  Therefore the one who loves becomes vulnerable, can be hurt and disappointed.  This may be called the dialectic of human life:  we live because and in so far as we love.  In this way we experience life and death in love.   (Crucified God, 252-3)

Moltmann obviously writes from experience here, reflecting on the essential interrelationship of love, suffering, death, and life.  Suffering is not to be minimized, nor exalted (those who praise pain have not suffered, or have forgotten their suffering, methinks).  But it is to be recognized, not as a good in itself, but as a sign of something good.  Namely, that the sufferer is alive, is sensitive, is open to love (and therefore to disappointment, pain, and sadness).  And this is true for God as well.  God the Son was literally forsaken by God.  And God the Father experienced ultimate bereavement when his son died.

Tennyson’s words,

I hold it true, whate’er befall;
I feel it when I sorrow most;
‘Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.

are true.  Horrible and awful and torturous.  But true, we grudgingly admit.

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