Where is God when it hurts?
A Reflection on “Passion of the Christ” – By Samuel Thambusamy
In the movie, Passion of the Christ, Jesus’ suffering and death evokes a sense of sadness. Jesus was a good man who suffered death unjustly. As the story unfolds you wonder, ‘Why did God forsake Jesus?’ The question: ‘Where is God when it hurts?’ – is important, not merely to understand Passion of the Christ but also to seek the significance of faith in the context of BAD things happening to GOOD people.
It hurts to see BAD things happen to GOOD people, not just in movies but all the more in real life. In moments of pain, and powerlessness, the notions of a GOOD God form the subject of an intense debate as various arguments both for and against are brought under intense rational scrutiny. To some, a GOOD God who allows GOOD people to suffer BAD is rationally untenable, and they reject the idea of God. For a few others, the idea of a GOD who cannot effect any GOOD is deemed meaningless and they resort to ridicule. Nevertheless, the faithful still hold that there is a deep sense of mystery in the workings of God that only faith can unlock. And yet, between these two extreme ideological stances, the ‘myth –meaninglessness’ debate, there is some logical space to posit a GOOD God who allows BAD things to happen to GOOD people to accomplish a larger – and GOOD – purpose. But, the GOOD God stands the danger of being misunderstood: either as a scary sadist or a careless ‘play writer’ who heartlessly scripts his characters to fit the larger plot. Skeptics hold that the trajectories of faith are a clever invention to variously deal with a measure of pain. And therefore, it is important to discover the locus of God’s presence, his power and his activity within the threshold of ‘pain’ and ‘powerlessness’ so as to reclaim the significance of faith to push the debate a little forward.
In Passion of the Christ, Jesus appears helpless – a victim of religious hatred and intolerance; a victim of social power-play between religious orders clamoring for a shrinking social space in the face of alien occupation; and a victim of a Roman governor who reflected his own insecurities of political failure, nonetheless different from the Empire he represented in the troubled Roman outpost. Why couldn’t God help Jesus? Where was God when Jesus was falsely accused and unjustly punished with a death penalty? It hurts to see BAD things happen to GOOD people. Even today, there are many whose right to life itself is crushed by forces of systematic evil, which constantly re-invents itself and continues to threaten hope for new life. Jesus’ pain and powerlessness and his consequent death raise a question, ‘Where is God when it hurts?’
As I watched the movie, I found the silence of God more ‘deafening’ than the wailing of women who had crowded along the streets of Jerusalem to see Jesus being led out of the city by the Roman guards. Was God, like the many others who stood in the streets that day, helpless to take up the cause of an innocent one crushed by the crumbling system of justice?
It hurts to suffer unjustly and the experience is sometimes doubly painful – for the physical pain and its mental variant that scar the psyche sting very differently. How can a GOOD God allow GOOD people to suffer BAD things? In the context of such ‘unjust’ suffering, ‘Where is God when it hurts?’ is a legitimate question. It hurts – to see yourself sink deeper in despair – every passing moment; every passing day – despite your faith in God. In moments of pain, it is the personal knowledge of God’s goodness, love and power and its seeming impotency to spring life that remain the weakest link. At this critical juncture, some hold that the idea of God can only be irrationally sustained. So, faith in God is seen as only a subjective attempt to deal with one’s measure of pain. This is the underlying assumption of the question, Where is God when it hurts? Moreover, the proverbial Marxian invention of God as ‘the opium of man’ and Fuerbach’s ‘Religious projection’ is replayed in contemporary language variously as: ‘clever invention’, ‘switch-over to fantasy mode’, ’emotional crutch’ and ‘a measure of pain’.
However, those who nourish faith hold on to God stronger, even though their faith constantly passes through crises of doubt. Faith emerges stronger as it passes through doubt and is constantly revised through an intimate knowledge of the divine presence and power. Not surprisingly, Jesus’ faith emerges stronger through the experience of pain and powerlessness as it passes through moments of doubt. Jesus’ cry, ‘Why have you forsaken me?’ is a reflection of a ‘faith-that-passes-through-doubt’ continuum. It takes enormous courage to go through pain with awareness of God’s presence around you. Only faith that is nourished by an intimacy of God’s presence can get you the courage to willingly accept unjust suffering. This is a frozen moment in time and space – that suspends the human will from its proclivities to hurt at every perception of threat and moves it closer to the possibilities of reflecting divine attributes. It is at this moment of yielding that there is transference of God’s grace, into our soul that only faith can sense. As it happens, the divine empowers us to see life – even in its darkest shades of ugliness and the pain of brokenness – as a gift of God. It grants to us grace to interpret the whole of life in the larger setting of God’s purpose, revealed in glimpses at the appropriate time. You are empowered to make that incredibly gracious gesture: ‘Father! Forgive them for they do not know what they are doing’.
Faith in God is not an emotional response. It is a spiritual response to discover God experientially in the very footprints of pain and powerlessness. God may be a silent actor but His silence is not indicative of his absence. He silently accompanies our journey, sustains us by His grace and suffers alongside of us. This is no subjective experience. Its spiritual reality is objectively proven in the emergence of a strong inner-self that derives comfort; healing and a fresh lease of hope against all odds, sometimes even at the face of continual defeat and constant threat of danger. But more significantly, it is the outward expression of love and courage to forgive those who perpetuate it –This, till date, remains a mystery: the power to love those who hate you and hurt you. This, then, is the significance of authentic faith. It is such authentic faith that helps us discover God’s power and presence – when it hurts and where it hurts the most. God was with Jesus, as he was led to Golgotha to be crucified.