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.