Jurgen Moltmann has been beating me up all day.

I’ve been reading The Crucified God (an aside: whoever designed the series of covers for Moltmann’s books must be a Jesus and Mary Chain fan) — both for my own spiritual formation during this season of Lent, and also to share with our church community.

In our church, we’ve been talking a lot about the interconnectedness of suffering, redemption, hope and love in Christ.  Thoughts from folks such as Dave Gibbons and Rob Bell have been very formative for us in talking about redemptive suffering — appropriate as we approach Passion Week, Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

We’ve been asking, as Moltmann writes in Crucified, “How can one continue to love despite grief, disappointment and death?” How do we experience pain honestly, without indulging in self-pity or becoming bitter, hardened people?  Can our pain lead us to deep, abiding trust in God and heartfelt empathy for others?

Here is a passage from The Crucified God that jumped out at me today:

What can the knowledge of the “crucified God” mean for helpless and suffering people?

Anyone who cries out to God in this suffering echoes the death-cry of the dying Christ, the Son of God. In that case, God is… in a profound sense the human God, who cries with him and intercedes for him with his cross where man in his torment is dumb. The one who suffers is not just angry and furious and full of protest against his fate.

He suffers because he lives, and he is alive because he loves. The person who can no longer love, even himself, no longer suffers, for he is without grief, without feeling and indifferent.  This apathy is the sickness of our time, a sickness of person and systems, a sickness to death, to personal and universal death.

But the more one loves, the more one is open and becomes receptive to happiness and sorrow. Therefore the one who loves becomes vulnerable, can be hurt and disappointed.  This may be called the dialectic of human life: we live because and in so far as we love — and we suffer and die because and in so far as we love.  In this way we experience life and death in love.

If our greatest goal is safety or comfort, we will find that we are not really living — certainly not in any meaningful relationship with the suffering, crucified and resurrected Christ.  This willingness to risk is not a gamble — we’re not crossing our fingers and rolling the dice.  Rather, redemption calls us to live as fully present, fully awake.

As Moltmann writes:

Anyone who enters into love, and through love experiences inextricable suffering and the fatality of death, enters in the history of the human God, for his forsakenness is lifted away from him in the forsakenness of Christ, and in this way he can continue to love, need not look away from the negative and from death, but can sustain death.

Indeed, the passion of Christ is more than a story of noble suffering or even radical love. Through the cross of Christ and His resurrection, we find hope for the future:

For eschatological faith, the trinitarian God-even on the cross becomes the history of God which is open to the future and which opens up the future.  Its present is called reconciliation with grief in love and its eschaton the filling of all mortal flesh with spirit and all that is dead with this love.  It is a transformation into the fullest degree of life. (emphasis mine)

May we find comfort in the One who suffers alongside us, may God shape us through our pain into kindness & compassion, and may we come alive through this love that has conquered death.