God wounded in Paris

Today’s news from Paris is chilling. Still reeling from the Charlie Hebdo attack, hostages are taken in a Kosher (Jewish) market in Paris. Fear of extremist Islamic terrorism spreads across France.

During a gathering of twelve of us at The Reformed Roundtable in Indianapolis two days ago, South African anti-Apartheid leader  the Rev. Dr. Allan Boesak quoted none other than John Calvin, according to whom whenever a human being wounds another, God is wounded.

The killers and hostage-takers in Paris claim the name of Allah. Their abuse of the name is an affront to faithful Muslims who reject violence and terror as much as adherents of Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Religion itself, whatever its form and doctrine, is to be measured by its compassion.

Events in Paris remind me of Dr. Boesak’s statement and the Very Rev. James A. Whyte‘s sermon at the January 9, 1989 memorial service after Pan Am flight 103 carrying 259 passengers exploded over Lockerbie December 22, 1988. Eleven more were killed on the ground in the small town of Lockerbie.  The Church of Scotland reluctantly called it’s Moderator, James Whyte, out of mourning his wife’s death for his to preach at the memorial service for the victims of the terror at Lockerbie.

In that sermon he proposed a vexing answer to the vexing question: Where was God when the plane went down? “God,” he said, “was on the plane.” 

“Justice, yes; retaliation no,” he declared. “For if we move in the way of retaliation we move right outside of the fellowship of Christ’s suffering, outside of the Divine consolation. There is nothing that way but bitterness and the destruction of our own humanity.”

Four hundred years after Calvin’s statement and decades before James Whyte’s sermon at Lockerbie, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote the following from his prison cell before he was hanged by the Nazi’s whose “God” was without compassion. Bonhoeffer wrote as a disciple of Jesus, the Crucified, but his picture of God as suffering and the call to stand with God in God’s suffering int he world of human cruelty represents the compassionate faith shared by compassionate people of every stripe.

Christians range themselves with God in his suffering; that is what distinguishes them…. As Jesus asked in Gethsemane, “Could ye not watch with me one hour?” That is the exact opposite of what the religious man expects from God. Man is challenged to participate in the sufferings of God at the hands of a godless world. He must therefore plunge himself into the life of a godless world, without attempting to gloss over its ungodliness with a veneer of religion or try to transfigure it. He must live a ‘worldly” life and so participate in the suffering of God. He may live a worldly life as one emancipated from all false religions and obligations. To be a Christian does not mean to be religious in a particular way, to cultivate some particular form of asceticism (as a sinner, a penitent or a saint), but to he a man. It is not some religious act which makes a Christian what he is, but participation in the suffering of God in the life of the world.  [Bolded type added]

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison

Today God is wounded again…in Paris, and we participate in the suffering of God at the hands of a cruel world.


10 thoughts on “God wounded in Paris

  1. Thanks for this Gordon. Hope your trip is going well. Heard Ziggy Brezinski Wed morning on Morning Joe. He said some common sense needs to be used by Charlie Hebdo in deciding what to publish. He said when we are dealing with millions of Muslims who are experiencing modernity for the 1st time we risk having this sort of thing happen again & again. In a way I look @ Charlie Hebdo as a sort of fundamentalist leftist journal that feels it has the correct view of the world & can make light of belief systems that they have decided are fair game. I think Ziggy is saying you don’t yell fire in a theater.


    • Interesting observations, Gary. Freedom of speech is a valued principle. It presumes a sense of responsibility. I’ve thought of waving a red flag in front of an angry bull. You know you risk getting gored. The problem here is that everyone else in the stands of the bull-fight ring is also placed at increased risk as if we were the cartoonist. It’s a tough ethical question made tougher when two fundamentalisms clash.


  2. Gordon, thank you so much for “God Wounded in Paris.” It touched me in many ways. I had friends who died on Pan Am 103. They were friends from church–parents and their two children. It is still painful to think of that and “God was on the plane” eases that pain.

    I think that you are probably the person who brought Bonhoeffer to my awareness. I had a small paperback book with the prayers and poems that he wrote in prison, and they meant so much to me as I have journeyed through adulthood. But, I lost that book somewhere–probably in my house waiting to be found. Lately I have longed to read those prayers again as I have been struggling with life stuff (involved with aging!). Additionally, as I listened to what is happening in the world and in our country, I just get so sick of it that I don’t want to listen to any news. But, I keep listening. What you have written today and the quote from Bonhoeffer has helped so much.

    So I went on Amazon and found the book you quoted from and bought. I’m not sure that it’s the same one that I had but it will be what I need right now.

    I was glad to hear that you were able to visit Joy. You are welcome to stop here at our home in the NC High Country on your way back.

    Gordon, again, thank you so much!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cynthia, Thank you so much. It always heartens me to know someone is reading this stuff. There are later books with collections of Bonhoeffer’s prayers and poetry based on the psalms. There is also a fabulous new book by Reggie Williams, an African-American theologian and ethics professor at McCormick Theological Seminary (Chicago) about Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus and how the Harlem Renaissance experience was central to how Bonhoeffer saw the world after his year at Union Theological Seminary in NY. It was great to have a little time with Joy. She’s such a gem! I guess we’re all working through stuff, both old wounds and the new ones that emerge with aging, but it’s better than the alternative -:) Whistle or write if you’d like to “talk” more about specifics.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I believe it was Henri Nouwan who wrote of the wounded healer with reference to Jesus. If we are followers of Jesus we too must accept the possibility of being wounded in proclaiming the peace given to the world by Jesus. If we do not proclaim with words AND deeds the peace of Christ we are not true disciples. Declaiming and judging from the safety of withdrawal is not an option for Christians. Contrary to the message spoken by many of those who are separating themselves from our denomination, judgment is not our rightful call, living withn the world as brothers and sisters of one another is our call.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jim, I too thought of Nouwen. Word and deed don’t always go together as they should. Thanks for your reflection. For readers who know nothing of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Jim is referring to the exodus of congregations who are leaving because they find the denomination too liberal – i.e., full inclusion of GLBTQ members and a non-literal interpretation of Scripture.

      Liked by 2 people

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