Saturday, 13 August 2011

The Suffering Christ

Perhaps because my background was not in a hell-fire sacrificial kind of Christianity, I've never had any trouble with images of a suffering Christ, although I can well understand those who have been abused with such images of sacrifice in their religious upbringing, especially in the often masochistic way in which devotion to those images is promulgated; I'm thinking of something like kissing the feet of a crucified Jesus in a service.

But that to me also domesticates what is supposed to be a horror, and enfolds it in a spirituality that is often divorced from the real world of suffering. It makes suffering something almost nice, something good (shades of asceticism) and actually it makes the suffering Christ something safe and almost cosy.

Instead I see those images of a crucified Christ as one kind of counter-culture image to the prevailing ideologies which push conspicuous consumption, economic growth, and even try to commodify spirituality, and yet seems to neglect (apart from passing news reports, soon forgotten) the famine in Africa.

I've always been struck by the approach of Jurgen Moltmann here:

"In a civilisation which glorifies success and happiness and is blind for the suffering of others, people's eyes may be opened to the truth, if they remember that at the centre of the Christian faith lies the assailed, tormented Christ, dying in forsakenness"

Moltman wrote his major work "The Crucified God" reflecting on shadows of Auschwitz, and asking the question "Is God far away from the victims of violence, or is God on their side, crying and suffering with them?"

That's quite different from the quietism that often goes with images of the suffering Christ, and it is a challenge against those who oppress, to "speak truth to power", whatever the consequences, for social justice. If I may be permitted to quote Moltmann again:

"The recollection that God raised the Crucified One and made him 'The Hope of the World' must lead churches to break their alliances with the violent and enter into solidarity with the humiliated."

Sadly, too often the churches collude with violence against the humiliated.

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