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Suffering Love

Friday, April 28, 2017

The Cross

Suffering Love
Friday, April 28, 2017

Many people rightly question how there can be a good or just God in the presence of so much evil and suffering in the world—about which “God” appears to do nothing. Exactly how is God loving and sustaining what God created? That is our constant dilemma, and without some answer you can quite reasonably become an atheist or at least an agnostic.

I believe—if I am to believe Jesus—that God is precisely suffering love. If Jesus is the living “image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), and if there is this much suffering in the world, then God is in some very real way suffering. God is not watching it, but in it! Did your church ever tell you that? How else can we understand the revelation of the cross and that our central Christian image is a naked, bleeding, suffering man? Christians strangely worship a suffering God, largely without realizing it; and Christian mystics even say that there is only one cosmic suffering, and we all share in it, as Paul also seems to intuit (Colossians 1:24).

Many of the happiest and most peaceful people I know love this “crucified God” who walks with crucified people, and thus reveals and “redeems” their plight as God’s own. For them, Jesus is not observing human suffering from a distance; he is somehow in human suffering with us and for us. He includes our suffering in the co-redemption of the world, as “all creation groans in one great act of giving birth” (Romans 8:22). We “make up in our own bodies all that still has to be undergone for the sake of the Whole Body” (Colossians 1:24).

The genius of Jesus’ ministry is his revelation that God uses tragedy, suffering, pain, betrayal, and death itself, not to wound you but in fact to bring you to God. There are no dead ends. Everything can be transmuted and everything can be used.

On the cross, in dramatic theater, God took the worst thing, the killing of God, and made it into the best thing—the redemption of the world! If you gaze upon the mystery of the cross long enough, your dualistic mind breaks down, and you become slow to call things totally good or totally bad. You realize that God uses the bad for good and that many people who call themselves good may in fact not be so good at all. (Remember it was the governing and establishment groups of Rome and Jerusalem that killed Jesus.) At the cross you learn humility, patience, and compassion. You also learn to distinguish between “what is happening” and “what is really happening.” This is called discernment and wisdom.

Sooner or later, life is going to lead you (as it did Jesus) into the belly of the whale, into a place where you can’t fix, control, explain, or understand (usually very concrete and personal; it cannot be merely theoretical). That’s where transformation most easily and deeply happens. That’s when you’re uniquely in the hands of God because you cannot “handle” it yourself.

Suffering is the only thing strong enough to destabilize the imperial ego. It has to be led to the edge of its own resources, so it learns to call upon its Deepest Source. Some might call this the God Self, the True Self, the Christ Self, the Buddha Self, or just the soul. Life at this point is indestructible! In short, you must discover or “save” your own soul, and nothing else can compare with this discovery. “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:24). (See also Mark 8:36, Matthew 16:26, John 12:25.)

Gateway to Silence:
I am crucified with Christ.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps (Franciscan Media: 2011), 120-122;
Job and the Mystery of Suffering: Spiritual Reflections (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 1998), 181;
The Authority of Those Who Have Suffered (CAC: 2005), MP3 download; and
A New Way of Seeing, A New Way of Being: Jesus and Paul, disc 2 (CAC: 2007), CD, MP3 download.

Image credit: White Crucifixion (detail), Marc Chagall, 1938, Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USA.
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