What is essential, decisive and normative to Christian faith? The suffering God

From Jeffrey C. Pugh’s Religionless Christianity: Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Troubled Times (T&T Clark):

Jesus Christ is where God becomes concrete reality, original reality. Transcendence is removed from metaphysical speculation and related to life in all its manifestations through embodiment.

And in this life, we find one constant aspect that transcends historical contingency or metaphysical speculation—suffering. As a fundamental aspect of human life, it is transhistorical and immediate. Suffering brings us to the door of human being and cuts across the ideological, social and economic categories we use to interpret and shape our existence. Suffering stands as a critique to the ‘world come of age.’ Those who suffer present themselves before all our accomplishments and offer mute testimony to the power claimed by our technology, science, and power. These shadows emerge from the mists of our indifference with names on their lips that haunt us, Hiroshima, Auschwitz, Rwanda, Darfur, Iraq. How does God language respond to this? How does religion respond?

* * *

Bonhoeffer argued that only the suffering God could help:

The Bible directs man to God’s powerlessness and suffering; only the suffering God can help. To that extent we may say the development towards the world coming of age outlined above, which has done away with a false conception of God, opens up a way of seeing the God of the Bible who wins power and space in the world by his weakness. This will probably be the starting point of our ‘secular interpretation’ (pp. 100-101).

* * *

The life of God in the world is not to be defined in terms that make God’s reality so radically transcendent that the horizons between God and humankind are merely tangential, barely connecting with one another. Religious impulses might seek God in the ultimate reality of the great beyond, but religionless Christianity seeks the life of God in the world of everyday life and the suffering of those who participate in it (p. 103).

* * *

Ultimately the embrace of religionless Christianity takes us to a place of suffering the cross, but not to escape the world in individual piety or otherworldly mysticism. Rather we call the world into question by our very immersion and being in the world, sharing its duties, sorrows and sufferings. There is where the work of love becomes gritty and life threatening. This is why the church has no protected space, no true separation from the world (pp. 104-105).

* * *

‘The church’s concern is not religion, but the form of Christ and its taking form among a band of people.’ The form of Christ in the world is not found among the political powers or the wealthy, rather it is found among the powerless and suffering of society, which are themselves the space of Christ’s presence in the world. Here is where God is present, hidden from sight, incognito, deus absconditus (p. 114).


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