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Love & Suffering

It is very difficult for me to understand Moltmann’s Trinitarian theology of the cross. The belief that God, the father, abandons Jesus, the son, on the cross, is not God-talk to me. The idea where the forsakenness and connectedness of father and child are most evident at the cross is not God-talk to me. It sounds like sadomasochism, a disorder, where love is expressed through humiliation and pain. As a mother, I cannot imagine how a parent can abandon a child. The greater scandal is how a parent would make a child suffer for the sins of others! Can we, as parents, imagine any justification for the sacrifice of our own children? There is something very, very wrong with this theology.

How can one’s great love be made evident through the sacrifice of another? It is no different from Jephthah who sacrifices his nameless daughter in Judges 11: 30-39. It is no different from the practice shared by Alex, a classmate from Ghana, where a virgin girl is sacrificed to atone for the sins of another in her family. This kind of language about God and suffering is very bad theology. If we believe this to be true, do we then say that all suffering in the human experience is because of the abandonment of God? Are the hungry people in Ethiopia abandoned by God? Are the Syrians dying in Aleppo abandoned by God? Are the refugees being denied entry into safer countries abandoned by God? Are the faithful being killed because of Christianity abandoned by God?

Jesus’s humanity and divinity is a mystery. If I reflect solely on the human experience of Jesus under the Roman Empire, then the suffering which ended in a deadly crucifixion is the result of Jesus’s ministry and preaching of feeding the hungry, forgiving sins, healing the sick and visiting the prisoner. His preaching of the Kingdom of God is a direct challenge and rejection of the Kingdom of Rome. God did not kill Jesus. How could God have done that? It was the earthly powers of the time that killed Jesus. As a human being born in a manger, among people who were refugees, under the violent Roman empire, Jesus was vulnerable like any human being. Despite his vulnerability, Jesus created a movement of, for, and by the poor. He was not in Jerusalem, the center of power, but in the margins where fishing communities, farmers and the poorest struggled for life. Jesus probably knew he would suffer and be crucified. For this was the fate of many like him who dared to speak against the powerful. Did he know that he was going to be resurrected? The thought probably never crossed his mind as a human being. But like Archbishop Oscar Romero who spoke against poverty and killings in El Salvador and was assassinated while holding mass, like Bishop Alberto Ramento who took the side of the farmers in the fight for agrarian reform who was killed inside the parish residence, and like so many martyrs who stand with the poor until death, he probably believed his spirit will rise up among the people even if he were killed. For me, that is the power of Jesus’s resurrection. It does not just happen to Jesus! It happens to those who believe in what he struggled for which is liberation in all forms! Ultimately, and I will end with Jon Sobrino’s proclamation, Jesus’s resurrection is a symbol of utopia as it makes possible ‘freedom to incarnate, to liberate others and to practice love.’ The human Jesus taught us how to love. The resurrected Christ calls us to follow him and do the same.

(Reflections on our class on Moltmann)

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1 thought on “Love & Suffering”

  1. I completely agree with you. My take is that the Moltmann idea harks back to the OT idea of sacrifice as in God’s command to Abraham to sacrifice his only sons Isaac, though the divine command was countermanded at the act of execution. Though I think in the Moltmann idea the father and the son are in a sense indistinguishable so much so that the dying of the son is also the dying of the father, and if that is the case your harsh though understandable judgement is somewhat mollified.

    It is at this point that the theology of struggle dovetails with your interpretation that the suffering of Christ springs out of his love for others so much so that he would fight to the death for their liberation from all sorts of injustice. The idea of sacrifice smacks of surrender to hate and evil; the idea of struggle speaks of a total and radical opposition to them. The theology os struggle calls the faithful of the church to consistently and courageously oppose oppression and injustice which unfortunately is the matrix in which we live. Such a matrix seems to have shifted radically in our times as we stand before the real possibility of the extinction all life on planet earth, and of the existence of the planet itself. How does one oppose a mad tyrant who has weapons of total incineration in his hands with similar weapons—if we speak of fighting evil to the death. The high probability of total destruction and incineration in the wake of nuclear confrontation of planet earth and all life in it, makes us wonder whether the idea of a battle to the death is something the gospel would prescribe. The idea of surrender to an evil power is like giving up all that we love and cherish to a power that we scorn and hate; but it does give us the possibility of injecting the idea of faith, hope, love and justice to the human community that remains. But is this idea not similar to the strategy used by Jesus by dying on the cross. He died and evil triumphed. There was a resurrection; but even if we bracket the physical reality of the resurrection, Jesus’ death releases the powerful force of truth, justice and love that brought about a radical change in the Roman Empire.

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