Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Heart of God.

This has to be one of the most beautiful passages I've read as a theology student thus far:
"This is Mt. 9:36: 'But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd.'

As we have already read in Lk. 1:78 about the σπλαγχνα [compassions] of God, we now read about an εσπλαγχνισθη [being filled with compassion] expressly attributed to the man Jesus of Nazareth as He journeys through the towns and villages of Galilee, teaching and preaching and healing. The expression is a strong one which defies adequate translation. He was not only affected to the heart by the misery which surrounded Him - sympathy in our modern sense is far too feeble a word - but it went right into His heart, into Himself, so that it was now His misery. It was more His than that of those who suffered it. He took it from them and laid if on Himself. In the last analysis it was no longer theirs at all, but His. He Himself suffered it in their place. The cry of those who suffered was only an echo. Strictly speaking, it had already been superseded. It was superfluous. Jesus had made it His own. To the mercy of God which brings radical and total and definitive salvation there now corresponded the help which Jesus brought to men by His radical and total and definitive self-giving to and for their cause. In this self-giving, by the fact that His mercy, in this sense, led Him to see men in this way, He was on earth as God is in heaven. In this self-giving He was the Kingdom of God come on earth."

- Karl Barth, CD IV.2, 185.

4 comments:

roger flyer said...

Love it.

thedescribe said...

I've read this a couple of times now and I have moved from feeling offended to it being utterly meaningless. I have tried to figure why I have responded that way so not to read too much into the passage. I keep coming to the fact that it reads like an unhelpful kind of mysticism that does not respect the suffering of the person nor the call to come alongside that suffering.
Would you care to frame this quote into something larger so I can perhaps better see the beauty you find?
- David CLD

Daniel said...

Yeah, I’m just a hillbilly songwriter but even though this is a beautifully constructed passage, I gotta agree with 'describe'--sorry Roger :( A while back there was a discussion on hope over at inhabitatio dei and I wrote something like, ‘that whatever theology we entertain has got to be able to be spoken into the worst places of suffering in this world,’ and not be just syllogisticly rigorous within some conceptual system. I used Rabbi Kalonymus of the Warsaw ghetto as and example, but it could just as well be the 15 yr old Chrisy I worked with at the Orion Teen center in Seattle. She was beaten, raped and tortured by her step-father until she was 14 and then was thrown out to live or die on the street.

“...so that it was now His misery. It was more His than that of those who suffered it. He took it from them and laid if on Himself. In the last analysis it was no longer theirs at all, but His. He Himself suffered it in their place. The cry of those who suffered was only an echo. Strictly speaking, it had already been superseded. It was superfluous.”

I don’t know how I would I tell Chrisy that all her suffering is “superflous?” Now I won’t repost any of the horrors of the Warsaw ghetto again here, and I don’t know why but when I first read this by KB it was Chrisy and not the blessed Rebbi that came to mind, but let me just add a few poems I collected from other young women like Chrisy:

Untitled by Stephy

left alone
to defend herself
all she wants
is someones help
no one can hear her
she screams for her life
always tortured
now he's forced her to fight
he’s so cruel
and he's made her believe
that she is so worthless
and can never be free

“Did It Help?” Reba M.

sometimes i feel like i'm dead
a part of me gone
when i am i wish i was with the living
but when i am, i want to be dead
i want to feel numb
and what the doctor gave me helped
but it wasn't right
so i haven't used it in over a year
but i want it back
it helped me cope
but it made my heart sting
so i'll live like i'm dead
i guess

These poems may not fare well under some kinds of rigorous poetic analysis, but Chrisy, Reba, and Stephy challenged my ideas about God’s beingness in the world. Of course KB’s Christological soteriology (damn, even just reading these theo-blogs from time time, and one talking like this!) is much more profound and expansive than this one passage and he, like all of us is best evaluated as a whole. Still, I think this is an example of a fundamental theological flaw that KB shares with a lot of others, especially certain kinds of pop-evangelicalism . And to be honest I was a lot more contented before folks like chrisy caused me to start thinking through all my own half-assed, faux-beliefs (which, unfortunately, I am still in the process of with no end in sight). Blessings y’all, and Obliged.

Kait Dugan said...

Yeah, I recognize that this quote can be reduced to a major offense if looked at through the one line that the suffering of humanity is "superfluous". But as KB says in II.2, the rejection from God is taken first and foremost by Jesus Christ so that from all eternity, his being is elected to be the one who suffers and dies for us. This is in view before we ever suffer and die. I think he is attempting to offer a pastoral concern here to show that God is not detached and removed from our suffering, but intimately related to it. And while this doesn't give a theodicy for suffering, it offers solidarity between the divine and the one who suffers that I think it quite comforting, at least from my perspective. The fact that he suffers is always sheer grace as he is not obligated to do so but he freely self-determines himself to be the God for us in Jesus Christ as the one who suffers with and for us.

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