In the movie, the Passion of the Christ, Jesus’ suffering and death evokes a sense of sadness. Jesus was a good man who suffered death unjustly. As the story unfolds you wonder, ‘Why did God forsake Jesus?’
The question: ‘Where is God when it hurts?’ – is important, not merely to understand the Passion of the Christ but also to seek the significance of faith in the context of BAD things happening to GOOD people.
It hurts to see BAD things happen to GOOD people, not just in movies but all the more in real life. In moments of pain, and powerlessness, the notions of a GOOD God form the subject of an intense debate as various arguments both for and against are brought under intense scrutiny.
To some, a GOOD God who allows GOOD people to suffer BAD is rationally untenable, and they reject the idea of God. For a few others, the idea of a GOD who cannot effect any GOOD is meaningless. Nevertheless, the faithful still hold that there is a deep sense of mystery in the workings of God that only faith can unlock.
But, the GOOD God stands the danger of being misunderstood: either as a scary sadist or a careless ‘play writer’ who heartlessly scripts his characters to fit the larger plot. Skeptics hold that the trajectories of faith are a clever invention to deal with pain.
And therefore, it is important to discover the locus of God’s presence, his power and his activity within the threshold of ‘pain’ and ‘powerlessness’ so as to reclaim the significance of faith to push the debate a little forward.
In The Passion of the Christ, Jesus appears helpless – a victim of religious hatred and intolerance; a victim of social power-play between religious orders clamoring for a shrinking social space in the face of alien occupation; and a victim of a Roman governor who reflected his own insecurities and fears of political failure.
Why couldn’t God help Jesus? Where was God when Jesus was falsely accused and unjustly punished? It hurts to see BAD things happen to GOOD people.
Even today, there are many whose right to life itself is crushed by forces of systemic evil, that continues to threaten hope for new life. Jesus’ pain and powerlessness and his consequent death raises a question, ‘Where is God when it hurts?’
As I watched the movie, I found the silence of God more ‘deafening’ than the wailing of women who had crowded along the streets of Jerusalem to see Jesus being led to Golgotha by the Roman guards. Was God, like the many others who stood in the streets that day, helpless to take up the cause of an innocent one crushed by the crumbling system of justice?
It hurts to suffer unjustly and the experience is sometimes doubly painful – for the physical pain and its mental variant that scar the psyche sting very differently. How can a GOOD God allow GOOD people to suffer BAD things?
In the context of such ‘unjust’ suffering, ‘Where is God when it hurts?’ is a legitimate question. It hurts – to see yourself sink deeper in despair – every passing moment; every passing day – despite your faith in God.
However, those who nourish faith hold on to God stronger, even though their faith constantly struggles with doubt. Faith, then, emerges stronger through a personal knowledge of the divine presence.
Not surprisingly, Jesus’ faith emerges stronger through the experience of pain and powerlessness as it passes through moments of doubt. Jesus’ cry, ‘Why have you forsaken me?’ is a reflection of a ‘faith-that-passes-through-doubt’ continuum.
It takes enormous courage to go through pain with awareness of God’s presence around you. Only faith that is nourished by an intimacy of God’s presence can get you the courage to willingly accept unjust suffering.
This is a frozen moment in time and space – that suspends the human will from its proclivities to hurt at every perception of threat and moves it closer to the possibilities of reflecting divine attributes. It is at this moment of yielding that there is the transference of God’s grace, into our soul that only faith can sense.
The Divine empowers us to see life – even in its darkest shades of ugliness and the pain of brokenness – as a gift of God. The Divine grants us grace to interpret the whole of life in the larger setting of God’s purpose, revealed in glimpses at the appropriate time. You are empowered to make that incredibly gracious gesture: ‘Father! Forgive them for they do not know what they are doing’.
Faith in God is not an emotional response. It is a spiritual response to experientially discover God amidst pain and powerlessness. God may be a silent actor but His silence is not indicative of his absence. He silently accompanies us, sustains us by His grace and suffers alongside us. This is no subjective experience. It is a spiritual reality.
You are able to experience comfort, healing and a fresh lease of hope sometimes even in the face of continual defeat and the constant threat of danger. This experience with God also finds an outward expression of love and courage to forgive those who perpetuate it. This, till date, remains a mystery: the power to love those who hate you and hurt you.
This, then, is the essence of authentic faith that helps us discover God’s power and presence – when it hurts and where it hurts the most. God was with Jesus, as he was led to Golgotha to be crucified.
Samuel Thambusamy is a PhD candidate with the Oxford Center for Religion and Public Life.
Photo by Paola Chaaya on Unsplash