Suffering: No Artful Dodger

Rather than opting out, we must learn how to live with suffering, which means "learn how to live as embodied beings." Jesus teaches that lesson, suffering innocently on the cross for "the sins of the world." Incarnate, he is "anything but an artful dodger into invisible inwardness" (Ernst Bloch, Atheism in Christianity: The Religion of the Exodus and the Kingdom, trans. J. T. Swann [New York, NY: Herder & Herder, 1972], 129-30). Instead, he comes to us as a being living fully in the world. He is embodied flesh, and his resurrection as a once-again-incarnate being, affecting the world and being affected by it, reveals the divinity of flesh itself. That means he also comes as one who cannot avoid innocent suffering—all of it—and its effects—all of them.

Jesus cannot avoid suffering for the same reason that none of us can: to be flesh is to be passive in some respect, to be affected by other things and other persons. What others do touches us. What happens to others touches us. Likewise, what we do affects others beyond our possible ken. Incarnate beings do not live merely inwardly, in our minds or wills. We live in bodies. We live among other bodies. And bodies in interaction must necessarily suffer in the root sense of that word. They must affect others and be affected themselves. So even Jesus Christ, a divine being, could not avoid the benefit that came from the suffering of those who came before him, from the suffering of the Exodus and the Exile, to the suffering of the Maccabean wars, to the suffering of his mother in childbirth. It comes with incarnation, part and parcel.

It is a mistake, then, to believe that Jesus came to end all suffering, if not here, then in the hereafter. Instead, in Gethsemane, before Pilate and the high priest and with the Roman soldiers, and on the cross, Jesus showed us how to live in response to suffering: not causing suffering ourselves, without accusation or recrimination against those who cause our own suffering, and taking responsibility even for the suffering that we did not cause. We imitate Jesus' incarnate divinity when we imitate that atoning response.

2/24/2011 5:00:00 AM
  • Mormon
  • Speaking Silence
  • History
  • Pain
  • Suffering
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  • James Faulconer
    About James Faulconer
    James Faulconer is a Richard L. Evans Professor of Religious Understanding at Brigham Young University, where he has taught philosophy since 1975.