As the Israeli army’s wholesale killing of civilians trapped in Gaza continues, the question arises: where is God? Is God looking on “from a distance,” impassive and unconcerned? Worse yet, is it God’s will, this collective punishment of the Palestinian people? Does God side with those who dominate through massive force and military might?
Not at all. God suffers the torments being inflicted on the Palestinians and on all who are tortured, abused, and forsaken by the Powers that rule this world. This is the deeper meaning of the cross.
In Elie Wiesel’s book, Night, he describes a scene in a Nazi concentration camp, where a child is being executed by hanging. The suffering goes on and on, and the prisoners are forced to watch. Wiesel writes: “Behind me, I heard [a man] asking: ‘For God’s sake, where is God?’ And from within me, I heard a voice answer: ‘Where He is? This is where–hanging here from this gallows…’” It is God who suffers the torments of human injustice, the God who is Love.
In Experiences of God, Jürgen Moltmann describes how he came to know the God who suffers with humanity, in an Allied prison camp as a young German prisoner of war during World War II. He had been raised and indoctrinated during the Nazi era and was devastated to learn of his country’s crimes against humanity. Despairing and alone, reading a copy of the New Testament and Psalms, he came to experience the presence of God in the midst of his suffering.
Popular Christianity sometimes ignores this deeper meaning of the cross—as if the crucifixion of Jesus was simply a transaction between God and sinners that God cooked up because there was no other way to set things right. This is nonsense. Of course, through Jesus’ death and resurrection people who follow him find forgiveness, grace, new life, and empowerment. But the common deterministic perspective ignores the whole political, social, economic, and military context in which Jesus’ death took place. There are many ways to understand Jesus’ death, including the way Jesus explained it in the Parable of the Wicked Tenants. Read more about this in my blog post: The Scandal of the Cross.
When we consider Jesus crucified and hanging on the cross, those who love him see God there, in solidarity with suffering humanity. “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows (Isaiah 53:4).” Those who are attuned to a God of Love experience God in the midst of the pain.
Where is God in the midst of the slaughter taking place in Gaza? Look into the eyes of a terrorized child. God is there.
God is also in the prayers and determination of people of conscience, of every philosophy and faith, to stand in solidarity with those who are oppressed and to rise up nonviolently on their behalf. We can still hold out hope for new life, hope for the future. Like Moltmann, who went on to write The Crucified God and Theology of Hope, we can point toward the healing and reconciliation of both oppressor and oppressed, and toward mutual liberation.
God is here.