One of my friends, whom I admire deeply, posted the following quote in light of the Connecticut shootings:
“Only a suffering God can help.” (Bonhoeffer)
For oh so many reasons, I really, really loathe that quote. It sure sounds potent, and, I guess for some, it’s comforting (I can’t quite figure that out, but hey, God is whatever you want God to be). And, I know, I know, context is everything. But this Bonhoeffer quote leaves me with a number of questions. Number one being . . .
“How” does a suffering God help? I mean, do I take this literally? ‘Only’ ‘a’ ‘suffering’ ‘God’ ‘can’ ‘help’. There seems to be so many problems with this six word sentence/assertion (I put each word in quotes for a reason–you could break down the claim word by word and have a field day with it). First, I don’t see how a passible deity is of much help to anyone (please, don’t tell me that’s the point). The last thing we ‘need’ is a god who is, basically, a glorified version of us (I use the lowercase on purpose as I think Herbert McCabe is correct to suggest that such a ‘god’ is nothing more than another ‘being’ in the universe, not the God above being–I have enough of the former in my life already).
Second, even if you’re not talking about impassibility/passibility, that is, this quote by Bonhoeffer is talking about the suffering of the second person of the Triune God in human form, then how is that helpful? What does it do? How does such a sentiment not merely wreak of mawkish banality? Is it anything more than just a poetic attempt to say ‘something’ when it may be better not to say anything at all? I guess, at first glance it sounds good, but then it just doesn’t do anything. It doesn’t do anything at all. And, perhaps, that’s the point. It’s not supposed to ‘do’ anything (we’ve made a fetish out of anti-utilitarianism of late, so maybe this is helpful). But if that is the point, then I’m going with silence. After all, the Father was silent when Jesus cried out to ‘him’ so, maybe that’s it. The ‘dead shall rise’ and therein lies our hope.
Is this how it helps?
About the Author
Tripp York teaches religious studies at Virginia Wesleyan College in Norfolk, Virginia. He is the author of more than half a dozen books including, Third Way Allegiance, The Purple Crown, and Living on Hope While Living in Babylon. He is the co-editor of the forthcoming three-volume collection called the Peaceable Kingdom Series. An actor and a lighting designer, Tripp also surfs and spends his weekends shoveling elephant and giraffe poop.