Christians believe that atheists are rude

People in suffering and pain - efforts to alleviate suffering from a Christian point of view

Our ability to perceive suffering is about to decrease. However, one cannot simply completely anesthetize the suffering and suffering. The question arises as to whether pain is not part of human life and maturation. A Greek proverb reads: "pathei mathos", "through suffering we learn". But with this, a possibly very questionable meaning and justification of suffering begins. The experience of suffering and the question of the cause and the meaning of suffering belong to the basic experiences and questions of humanity. Even in the Old Testament, faith and theology are mercilessly put before this question: How can God allow this? Every attempt to justify God before evil, i.e. every theodicy, almost always ends with the opposite result, that God himself is brought to justice. For belief in God, all the questions raised by human suffering in the world are concentrated in the agonizing question: Suffering - how can God allow this to happen to the innocent?

It is not possible to answer this question sufficiently or even exhaustively in the context of a lecture. But I want to try at least a try to understand. In the case of incomprehensible suffering, it is often better if we remain quietly and in solidarity with the sufferer and not flee, but rather with others, primarily the doctors, nurses and carers, but also the family members. But we must not be silent about the many questions either. So I would like to dare such an attempt between hospital and pastoral care, medicine and theology, university and pastoral care, between hospice and everyday life, which could also represent a bridge in other respects between many things that otherwise separate us in everyday life. In faith, too, we want to take part in a comprehensive therapy in our own way, in holistic care for the path and the lot of people. The question of suffering and suffering should not be missing.

Before we think about “God and suffering”, we want to look at the reality of human life and experience that has already been briefly mentioned, namely our flight from suffering.

Those who only happily look to the future care little about the ruins and rubble around them. Who thinks of the forgotten victims on the way to "progress"? We often lack sensitivity to suffering. This blindness manifests itself in the inability to perceive one's own suffering and that of others. Those who stupidly endure the suffering are in danger of forfeiting the distinguishing features of human nature: the struggle with the adversity, the resistance against facticity, the work on oneself. As we can relate to ourselves relatively easily by means of anesthesia and above all can spare addiction physical suffering, we also push back emotional and social pain. The more we are saturated, the more apathy increases. "The question is what will become of a society in which certain forms of suffering are avoided free of charge ... in which the marriage recognized as unbearable is quickly and smoothly dissolved, in which no scars remain after the divorce, in which the Relationships between the generations are replaced as quickly as possible, without conflict and without a trace, in which the periods of mourning are reasonably short, in which the handicapped and sick are quickly out of the house and the dead are quickly out of memory. If the exchange of partners takes place on the model of selling the old car and buying a new car, then the experiences made in the unsuccessful relationship remain unproductive. Nothing is learned from suffering and nothing can be learned ”(D. Sölle).

Insufficient theological answers

For the Christian, as will be shown more precisely, suffering belongs in the middle of the image of God. Therefore, in the form of the crucified and risen Lord, it could become a place of hope. Because suffering could still be the place and source of consolation and strength, of life and love, not least in a hopeless situation there was still something like providence and surrender to suffering. However, it is precisely here that the dispute over the Christian overcoming of suffering begins. Last but not least, Judaism, with its messianic hope for an eschatological salvation from evil, has raised objections here - in faith or rather in so-called "secularized" forms.

Can it be said so quickly that basically all the suffering in the world has already been redeemed since Jesus Christ? Doesn't the accusation keep coming up that such an answer, skimming the suffering of the dead and the bitter injustice, is cynicism in the face of the victims? Doesn't the suspicion arise here that only cheap consolation is being offered in an indifferent afterlife? Indeed, a deep reflection is necessary here for the Christian talk of suffering. We have given too little consideration to the extent to which concrete suffering wears away faith and hope. Even more problematic, however, is the attempt to “explain” suffering that is familiar to everyone from childhood: the evil in the world can be justified by the fact that it secretly serves a “higher goal”. As Christians, we often know too much about the meaning of suffering, e.g. that it serves to purify and prove, that it is just and good as a punishment for sin, that it comes from the mercy of God who admonishes, that it is a proof of the fateful context of original sin. After all, a stoically shaped belief in providence has deeply shaped our conception of the meaning of suffering: In the necessary hierarchy of the world, the individual must serve the perfection of the articulated whole. The beauty of the whole arises from its contradictions and contradictions.

Increased doubts

Today we falter at this thought of a “higher harmony” as an explanation for the evil and suffering in the world. The thought of a sheltering invitation of the individual into the cosmically ordered whole and what is necessary in it has become uncanny for us. We perceive such an explanation of suffering to be rationalistic and harmonistic. There is a theological abuse of human suffering that we have to pay for a thousandfold today: suffering comes from God's hand; the root of sickness is sin; full health only exists in the kingdom of God; Suffering is a unique opportunity to mature internally; suffering is God's sublime education for stubborn man. Just think of some calls for “willingness to suffer”, for unconditional submission, even for a masochistic pleasure in suffering.

Such a theological overcoming of suffering is all the more opposed today because theology, with a strange reluctance, has not fundamentally made the distinction between those sufferings that we reduce or avoid and those that we can neither cause nor end. What has become problematic is not the attempt at a personal and existential clarification of the meaning of suffering, as people try again and again for themselves - whether successful or rather unsuccessful - but the subsequent theological systematization, which inevitably gives the impression that they have no respect and basically just an abstract pity for the pain. That is why these abstract attempts at justification break again and again due to concrete experiences.

The breaking of every "higher harmony"

It is precisely in this respect that in the last hundred years there have been controversies theological attempts to explain, which no reflection on suffering can ignore. What is meant above all is that suffering in which those affected can no longer learn anything, but rather fall silent.

F.M. In “The Karamazov Brothers”, Dostoyevsky presented the possible answers to this challenge in the dialogue between the two brothers under the heading “The indignation”. Ivan speaks of the suffering of innocent children. “I don't want to speak a word about all the other tears of people, from which the whole earth is saturated from its bark to the center ... According to my Euclidean understanding, I only know one thing, namely that suffering exist without guilty parties . ”Iwan does not want to accept the usual interpretation that these sufferings are justified by a“ higher harmony ”. “The price was too high for the Harmonie, my bag doesn't allow me to pay such a high admission price. So I hurry to give my ticket back ... Not that I disapprove of God, Alyosha, but I respectfully give him back the ticket. ”Ivan does not want to be the indignant, but the suffering of the innocent leads him - unbelievers for love's sake, like other figures of Dostoyevsky - for accusation and rebellion. Aljoscha listens to the testimony of the protest against the mercy of God in silence, can only refer to Jesus Christ and silently kisses the lips of the indignant Ivan.

S. Freud writes to his friend, Pastor Oskar Pfister: “And finally - let me get impolite - how the hell do you combine everything that we experience and have to expect in the world with your postulate of a moral world order? I'm curious about that - but you don't need to answer ”. The same question arises again and again, e.g. with W. Borchert: “Were you dear in Stalingrad, dear God, were you dear there, weren't you? Yes, when were you actually dear, God, when? When have you ever looked after us? "S. Weil - like many others - joins Ivan's speech in the Karamazovs:" Whatever one could offer me to weigh the tears of a child, there is nothing that can induce me to accept this tear. Nothing, nothing at all that human reason could devise. ”Reinhold Schneider has done the mute suffering of non-human creatures beyond the suffering of innocent people. In “Winter in Vienna” he occasionally increases this experience into the grotesque absurdity: “The phenomenon of 'life'. The praying mantis has eaten the male's head and is now feeding on the front part of the body while the abdomen mates with her. (What enslavement of all creatures! The thirst for blood of the dance flies at mating time.) ".

Pope Benedict XVI publicly formulated similar questions when he visited Auschwitz on May 28, 2006: “Where was God in those days? Why did he keep silent? How could he tolerate this excess of destruction, this triumph of evil? "

Renunciation and limittheological "Explanations"

Before these testimonies and the thousandfold experiences of unknown and unnamed suffering, which mostly eludes us in its own form of speechlessness, it is necessary for the theologian to be more economical with every "interpretation" of suffering. In any case, you have to forego a blanket "total solution". There is certainly a general connection between human suffering and sin, between man's original error and inevitable calamity. In his experience of suffering, the individual can know about a peculiar intertwining of his situation with the history of sin and about the entanglement in guilt that transcends him. This can be expressed in the lawsuit and in the curse, in the indictment and in the request of the person concerned. But the “explanatory” speech from the outside comes to an insurmountable limit in the concrete, suffering person. As true as it may be, the global theory cannot prove its correctness in every individual case. Theology will therefore be careful not to have a theological interpretation of every single occurrence and event of human suffering, as if here or there God is certainly at work in a punishing, humiliating, degrading manner. The God who causes suffering, as he is occasionally invoked in theology - not least in the Reformation - sometimes has sadistic traits, so it is no wonder that such a God cannot stand before the questions of the suffering person, not only before Ivan Karamazov and Albert Camus.

Suffering and death as an ineradicable sting

Christian faith need not simply stop at this answer. Sparing in the interpretation of suffering does not mean renouncing the hidden power of what the Christian can experience in suffering and therefore also has to say. The question “Why do I suffer?”, As G. Büchner puts it, is still “the rock of atheism”. Anyone who knows how to demystify everything man-made will also become sober about their own answers. J. Habermas has in view of the Th.W. Adorno's unwaveringly held idea of ​​a universal reconciliation pointed out that this was ultimately based on “the need for consolation and confidence in the face of death, which the most ardent criticism cannot fulfill. This pain is heartbroken without theology ”. E. Bloch also knows that death as the “last enemy” of man is “that most certain empirical, most striking metaphysical”, “the harshest counter-utopia”. Faith will not triumph over such "confessions" and give itself immaturely to consider when it still sees hope in the midst of suffering.

The decisive choice

Christianity is the religion that does not offer people a god of happiness who makes them forget the darkness of suffering. Indeed, religion is not least born out of the longing to overcome human suffering, but not infrequently it chooses the path of a deceptive belittling of suffering and death, cannot withstand the harsh pressure of human hopelessness, but flees cowardly and hastily into a better one World. It was believing Israel that did not mythologically transfigure death, as in the religions of neighboring peoples, but soberly accepted it from the depths of trust in God. That is why, as we shall see, what belongs to the Christian faith first of all is the courage to recognize suffering. If you look him in the eye, this also includes participation and co-suffering. Where there is so much repression and apathy, flight and refusal from suffering, such solidarity and sympathy (originally: experiencing, sympathizing) is more than just a beginning. Often we come up against limits in suffering that can hardly be exceeded. The only form of compassion is then to share the unspeakable pain of the sufferer with them - perhaps without a word -, not to leave them in their loneliness and at least to hear their screams. Absolutely “foreign” suffering should not exist for humans.

The god of the lost

That is why the Christian must never rhetorically weaken suffering. It is not yet a sign of faith to speak in the wrong place and inappropriately of eternal peace, God's grace and immortal life. Rather, it is the Christian's first task in general to give faithful language to justified mourning. It is certainly the most important duty of the Christian to take the party of everything weak and low, defenseless and unsuccessful. God will not break the kinked reed or extinguish the smoldering wick (cf. Isaiah 42: 3) - contrary to all principles of selection. Nowhere can it be more clearly shown that this God is not only a God of the strong and successful, that he rather shows himself in suffering as the one whom Jesus preached: the Father of the lost. He stands on the side of the small, the sick, the poor, the persecuted, the underprivileged, the oppressed and the dumbly suffering. This God of course also demands the renunciation of that false consolation in a suffering that can be lessened or even eliminated by man. Any talk of a possible “sense of suffering” becomes untrustworthy at the root if avoidable suffering is combated in all areas and with the appropriate means.

No stranger's sorrow

We have to learn again and again from the ground up that there is no other suffering. Such a proposition can only be substantiated in a very limited way. Those who are not affected by suffering take the role of the neutral onlooker or the position of Pilate who washes his hands in innocence. Suffering, viewed with a trace of humanity and brotherhood, creates compassion. Wherever there is suffering, it concerns you. However, we do not want to fool ourselves: In a situation of suffering, humans can become even worse than the instinct-driven animal that eats the last chunk of its conspecifics and maybe even kills them. The struggle for survival puts people in the last and most ruthless isolation. But there is an opposite experience, especially with simple and poor people: Those who have suffered common suffering and still suffer today, they often share the ultimate and the utmost with one another. So it remains true: there is no other suffering. This sentence is not a "fact", but it is expected of us from the innermost mystery of being human and of Christian faith. And we will once be asked and weighed up whether we belonged to those who caused suffering, who alleviated it, or who apathetically ignored it. "Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or naked or in prison and did not help you?" (Matthew 25:44)

The only answer: look at Jesus

The Christian can only give the ultimate and basically only answer to the suffering of the world by pointing to Jesus of Nazareth, the figure of suffering of the Messiah and thus to the cross. Even God did not “explain” human suffering in Jesus Christ, but as the completely innocent he took over the inevitable and suffered to the bitter end. The death of Jesus in particular cannot be mystified. The cross of Jesus is least of all a theological invention, but rather the world's answer given a thousand times over to the message of justice, love and peace. That is why the innocently suffering can recognize themselves in Jesus' death and in his cross. The rulers solve or avoid their conflicts on his back, the mercenaries of all times let their anger and sadism play on the innocent and defenseless - behaviors that we also easily use towards inferiors.

The multifaceted cross

In this way it is also to be understood that at all times believers and non-believers have read their pain into the suffering of Jesus Christ and marked their incomprehensible suffering into his passion. We see it in the plague crosses in which the artist once placed the plight of the people afflicted by this plague in the plague blue and black body of the tortured Jesus. We see it today in the harrowing crucifixes that come from the hands of tortured prisoners in South America: A Jesus Christ hangs on the cross, whose body and face are unmistakably marked by the torture. Christian piety and Christian art - better than all theology - have repeatedly prayed and watched through this vicarious path of suffering of the Man of Sorrows in the fourteen stations of the cross and found the place of redemption for their own suffering.

Strong enough for the world's suffering

One can argue whether the suffering and death of Jesus represent the utmost brutality and cruelty. Perhaps man's art of indulging in the pain of his brother has not yet come to an end in terms of its skills. But for the believer it is certain that the suffering and death of Jesus were put to an extreme test precisely because of this tortured man's closeness to God. The cry of godforsakenness shows how close the experience of senselessness is to the mystery of this death: absolutely left alone by the one on whose help he had bet everything.

Everything was - humanly experienced and spoken - in vain. Given the hopelessness and impotence of this death, no one can invent that the mark of a hanged criminal could offer salvation and meaning, just as little as the senseless catastrophes and deaths that we experience. The Christian believes - everything depends on that - that Jesus of Nazareth did not remain in this absurd death, but that God completed this death by keeping his righteous witness even through the most extreme suffering. And just as one cannot light such a light oneself in the last powerlessness, so “meaning in suffering” cannot be produced by us, but can only be given to us in faith. It is only because God saves Jesus and takes him once and for all from the power of death that there is a last resort and hidden meaning in this catastrophe. “Suffering is inevitable and compels to God. [Is this true? One would like to ask an interim question at this point.] But man does not invent the name of God; God must name him. Nor does man invent the sign that bears all suffering; God must establish it himself, the only sign that is strong enough for the world's suffering load, because it is arranged for God's suffering and death. Nothing stands more firmly in reality; it is the answer to the inevitable need of the 'dust family' ”(Reinhold Schneider).


Conditions of a "sense" in suffering

Of course, there is - as we have often forgotten - no automatic meaning of suffering in Christian life either. The victory of the cross is always hidden, and the resurrected one keeps his wounds forever. One cannot attach “meaning” to suffering like a Christian brand label. That is why there must be no glorification of suffering in the Christian realm. The meaningfulness of suffering can only be meant to us when we have committed ourselves to God as the ultimate reality of our lives with firm faith and unshakable trust. That is why the "meaning" of suffering does not open up by itself, but can only be received in a struggle with God, in a cry of lament, with sighs, sometimes reluctantly and in the end perhaps indeed with extreme submission. We late heirs to a culture that has forgotten the mystery of tears and the necessity of lamentation, understand so little about suffering and its consolation, because we can no longer cry out to God from the depths of our hearts. This too is part of the apathy of our life.

God and suffering

With this we come before the mystery of God himself. God conceals himself in suffering. In contemplating the fate of Jesus Christ, the image of God that we have made of him also changes for us. He is not the unimpressible God who is enthroned above the heavens in blissful untouchability and far from all human suffering. The Father of Jesus Christ is not a listless God who is relieved of all suffering. Man can protest against a God who rules and rules in undisturbed happiness. Against God, who revealed his participation in the suffering of the world and demonstrated his concrete co-suffering in Jesus Christ, it becomes more difficult to rise up through a revolt and to demand “justification”. God is on the side of the victims, his most faithful messenger and son are hanged. The meditation of his cross should lead us to the fact that the power of God consists in the forgiving and giving power of the love of his next messenger.

Incomprehensible suffering in God too

Much more could be said about this. Today's theology speaks a lot about God crucified. She is convinced that taking suffering seriously in God means a “revolution in the understanding of God” (J.Moltmann). Here, too, the road to questionable speculation is not far. Quickly and skilfully one constructs an inner-divine story of suffering that occurs dialectically between God and God, the Father and the Son. But does one do justice to God's suffering if one reads into God's love an iron necessity for the cross? Does it no longer mean to say that the love of God does not need the cross, but that the real love of God in this world - through the seriousness of his devotion and the cruelty of human behavior - comes to the cross? Without convulsive speculative constraints, God's mercy increases and suffering remains suffering. True theology must also put a stop to such temptations to a “higher harmony” here and now.

Present and future salvation in suffering

Suffering indicates a final dimension of Christian faith: whoever suffers cannot be content only with the distant and future God. "The hope for a better future must also be fixed in the now suffering subjects as a present, as a consolation: God must also be thought of for man in misery, the truth of love, which is now unsuccessful, remains certain" (D. Sölle) . A God who does not immediately help, save, and achieve salvation, is helpless as pure consolation for the future and without any present. Faith says in suffering that God loves us, even if nothing of it is (yet) visible. “Now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor 6: 7) - this is especially true in suffering. This is the only reason why there is peace in the midst of painful strife, in the midst of suffering there is a mysterious and admittedly extremely vulnerable form of joy, only that is why there is affirmation in the impotence of suffering and pain, the praise of God, the singing of the youngsters in the fiery furnace, the psalm of the doomed in the concentration camp. “God's love does not protect against all suffering. But it preserves in all suffering ”(H. Küng).

In the present begins what can only find its completion in the kingdom of God. That is why this is the deepest statement that Christian theology can make with the last scripture of the New Testament: “God himself will be with them (the long-suffering people) as their God. He will wipe every tear from her eyes: there will be no more death, no more grief, no lament, nor hardship. For the old world has passed away ”(Revelation 21: 3f).

The salvation of suffering

Every word used to interpret the meaning of suffering remains dodgy and ambiguous, as seldom elsewhere in theology. Of course, sometimes it is precisely the word that is needed inside and outside of Christianity so that the silent screams of those who suffer are made audible. This is not only the task of the theologian, but also today, for example, of the poet and writer. I only remember the dedication that Alexander Solzhenitsyn placed in front of the first volume of his "Archipelago Gulag":

"Dedicated to all those
who didn't have enough life
to tell this.
You may forgive me
that I haven't seen everything
not everything reminds me
I haven't guessed everything. "

The theological talk of suffering and suffering has to go one step further in limiting what it can do. What she says she must also make true by doing what she proclaims. That is why Jesus Christ must be friends with those who suffer. If it is true that one should bear the burden of the other, neither can escape the call to help from suffering.

The suffering at the end of life

This suffering can increase unusually at the end of life. In line with what I said at the beginning, I just want to add a few briefly formulated points of view like theses:

1. Suffering and pain belong to the finite, imperfect human being who is broken through guilt and sin. We can never just defeat them once and for all. That is why in the experience of suffering and dying, despite all the pain, a person must not completely despair or just rebel defiantly.

2. We have to deal with suffering and face it humanly. We can break completely on it, but it can also purify us in a healing way.

3. All suffering that affects people should and must be reduced as far as possible. But we do not have the right to end our lives on our own initiative. If palliative measures, in which the senses as well as thinking and willing are dampened, have to be carried out, the dying process must not be accelerated so that it becomes a kind of active euthanasia or one comes close to it.

4. As mentioned above, we can alleviate pain by many means, but not actively end life. In all differentiated experiences in the realm of life and death, there is a fundamental boundary between letting die and killing. “You shall not kill” is an absolute imperative.

5. Hospice work and palliative medicine are the most important aids in this difficult task today, and they implement what has been said in an impressive way.

6. If we do not use these aids, ways and means in an ethically permissible manner, we can hardly stop the pressure towards active euthanasia.

7. In the loneliness of the dying, people who stay with them, help and endure, testify to the fraternal, creaturely and deeply human solidarity that we all need in all medical possibilities.

Then we do not need false compassion, but share the co-suffering through human and Christian help.

(c) Karl Cardinal Lehmann