This post is part of a series walking through the second volume of Abraham Kuyper’s Common Grace
As we have already seen, communal guilt can lead to the suffering of the few without implying direct individual guilt on the part of the sufferer. Sometimes it’s even the virtuous who suffer the most. Jesus is clear that there is a mysterious providence at work here. And this sounds harsh to us, until we look at the cross. There we see good in the suffering, as well as a unity of compassion. Now, Scripture speaks of this specifically as to the body of Christ in three ways:
- Paul uses a material image, so there is a truth that applies to all of creation–not just to the spiritual realm. We are all part of one body. (1 Corinthians 12:18-24)
- “The body of Christ” is people made new, the old man reborn, not a “second humanity.”
- The command to suffer with others is not limited to believers.
This is a common grace principle–without it Cain was right. For that matter we see both positive and negative examples of this truth in the world. Kuyper sums all this up:
The conclusion to be drawn from this is obvious. God sees standing before himself not individual persons but our human race. He sees that race having sunk into sin. Through sin the curse rests upon this race. And where this curse manifests itself in suffering, this suffering does not affect individual persons but the race as a whole, and it is only his grace that causes it not to come upon everyone equally but only upon a few in that mass. It should have struck everyone. That it strikes only a few is therefore neither harshness nor injustice, but only sparing grace. (654)
What this means is that we should empathize with each other, since the one who is suffering has not “sinned more”, but instead we should be affected and reach out to help these individuals. “Thus, wound and balm have a common origin.” (655) Our unity as a race is in sin and guilt, and this unity forms the groundwork both for personal sin and for empathy for those who are suffering. This empathy then spreads the burden back out–as we see in our physical bodies, when an illness that affects one part of us makes our whole person fell miserable. For that matter, we even empathize–rightly–with those who are actually personally guilty and suffering because of their own sin. The cross demands that we empathize with such individuals…
When it comes to insurance, “communal suffering” is the focus, albeit with certain distinctions:
- The aforementioned connection between personal and communal suffering;
- the “monetary and nonmonetary damages” brought by communal suffering. (656)
Of course some suffering always goes so personal empathy cannot touch it–only God can reach here. But most suffering has a monetary component as well. This is not naked naturalism or an insult–thinking that reducing suffering to a dollar figure is insulting is a middle-class/wealthy attitude. Rather, this is a genuinely charitable, and relieves misery just a bit. That has value that should not be overlooked.