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Does God suffer? Most people would probably say no.
I mean, most of our lives are spent trying to avoid pain and suffering, and so we assume that God, who is all-powerful, is probably the one being in the universe who is able to escape all suffering.
Besides, what or who could possibly cause God to suffer?
The answer is that God does suffer, and love is what causes Him to suffer.
One of the greatest revolutions in my own theology occurred when I first began to realize that God looks like Jesus, and especially Jesus dying on the cross. Historically and traditionally, Christians have always believed that God and Jesus are one, that Jesus reveals God to us, but this belief has usually been put into practice by studying what the entire Bible says about God, including what the New Testament says about Jesus, and then trying to piece all this together into some sort of understanding about what God is really like.
What has happened with this approach, however, is that we get a two-faced God. On the one hand, with the violent and enemy-killing actions of God in the Old Testament (including a certain understanding of the book of Revelation and the doctrine of hell) we see God as a God of war, wrath, anger, and retribution. But then, when we try to understand God as revealed in Jesus Christ, we see God as full of grace, mercy, patience, forgiveness, and kindness.
And the big problem in traditional Christian theology has been how to reconcile these two opposing viewpoints of God. Some have tried to smash these two opposing views of God together in some sort of reasonable way, but the attempts to do so are never successful or satisfying. So other people tend to reject one perspective on God and embrace the other. One extreme focuses solely on Jesus and writes off most of the Old Testament depictions of God as myth and fable. The other extreme focuses primarily on these violent portrayals of God and says that this violent streak in God was only hidden during his incarnation, but will reappear in Jesus at His second coming.
I see-sawed between these three perspectives for most of my early years as a seminary student and pastor, but in recent years have come to see that the way forward is not by trying to reconcile the violence of God in the Old Testament with the enemy-forgiving love of Jesus in the Gospels, but instead by allowing the revelation of God in Jesus Christ to trump everything else, and more specifically, to allow the revelation of God in Jesus Christ on the cross to be the grid, or filter, or lens, or vision by which and through which we seek to understand everything else the Bible says about God.
This does not lead us to discard or discredit what the Old Testament says about God, but simply to see it in a whole new light. To see God with cruciform eyes. To see God in the light of the crucivision perspective.
This sermon by Brian Zahnd does not get into how this way of understanding God helps us read and interpret the Old Testament texts, but it does introduce the listener to the revolutionary and completely shocking idea that based on what we see about God in Jesus on the cross, God is a suffering God. He is not impassible. He is not aloof. He is not distant and separate. But He truly is “Immanuel” God with us, and especially a God who is with us in our suffering. When we suffer, God is not just there to speak words of encouragement or put an arm around our shoulder. No, when we suffer, God suffers with us. He is in the midst of the pain, crying out right along with us, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
This topic is also what I write about in my book, The Atonement of God. In that book, I show you how to view God through the crucifixion of Jesus to help you see that God is always loving, always forgiving, and always gracious and kind. If you ever wonder if God loves you, forgives you, or accepts you, I invite you get my book on Amazon and see God in a whole new light.
As an introduction to some of the things I write about, listen to this episode to hear what Brian Zahnd has to say about the suffering God.
Hopefully, after listening to this message by Brian Zahnd about the suffering of God, you have a greater appreciation for how much God loves you, and how much He understands the pain and suffering you go through in this life.
God is with you in your pain. He is present in your suffering. Just like Jesus, God is acquainted with grief and sorrow.
Lots of theologians are uncomfortable with this idea, but I believe it is a truth which helps us relate to God like never before.
But what do you think? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comment section below.
One response to “[#18] Brian Zahnd – The Suffering God”
Thank you, I don’t know when this was recorded, but I needed to hear it today. I even got more bad news while I was listening to this podcast.
Keep preaching/teaching about this God – the God that loves us and relates to us intimately and understands all that we go through because he suffers with us. It isn’t just comforting, it’s liberating.