My contemplations on God in relationship to human suffering were affected by my recent readings of different Holocaust accounts. One of the authors who survived years in a death camp describes his feeling of being abandoned by God. Where was God in the Holocaust? How could just and good God let something like this take place? Eli Wiesel’s account described in his book Night answers these questions:
“The SS hanged two Jewish men and a youth in front of the whole camp. The men died quickly, but the death throes of the youth lasted for half an hour. “Where is God? Where is he?” someone asked behind me. As the youth still hung in torment in the noose after a long time, I hear the man call again, “Where is God now?” And I heard a voice in myself answer: “Where is he? He is here. He is hanging there on the gallows…””
My understanding of God in relation to human suffering is that God too hung on the gallows. A suffering God is the only thing that comes to my mind when I am faced with human suffering in the hospital. There are many images of the suffering in the Old Testament. There God expresses his pain of relationship with humanity through the metaphors of an unproductive vineyard, a lost child and an adulterous wife. These are all images of loss. Grieving begins with God. In his love God takes his people very seriously and suffers for their actions. If someone cannot imagine that God can suffer, he/she should never mention God’s love. Only suffering God is the God who loves.
I can’t see suffering as a weapon used by God to punish us for our sins, test our faith, or teach us a lesson. In this way God would become an all-powerful tyrant who doesn’t care much about our free choice. God does not protect us from suffering either. Faith can never be used as a talisman to ward off disaster. God connection to human suffering is rooted not in his ability to cause it or to protect us from it, but in God’s capacity to suffer with us. God is not present in our lives for our protection but rather for our unending support. He does not run away from our suffering. God holds fast when we feel the most forsaken and responds to our suffering by experiencing what we experience.
However we shouldn’t reduce God to the level of the fellow sufferer who understands. I guess it would aggravate situation even more to know that God is as much helpless victim of evil as I. In the divine suffering together with me there is an answer to the most acute pain in human suffering – being forsaken by God. In the image of God suffering with me and for me as it is seen in Jesus hanging on the cross there is a promise of liberation from suffering God takes suffering and death on himself in order to heal, to liberate and to give new life.
I love reading an old prayer that is full of images of suffering God:
“Grant, O Lord, that in your wounds I may find my safety, in your stripes my cure, in your pain my peace, in your Cross my victory, in your Resurrection my triumph, and a crown of righteousness in the glories of your eternal kingdom. “