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Key Proposition

VIEWS: 4 PAGES: 10

									Key Proposition:
To love is to suffer – God is love – God suffers, voluntarily

Scripture:
1 Kings 3:16-27 and John 11:32-36

Title:
Does God Suffer?

Structure:
 Introduction
 Love vs. Apathy
 God’s suffering in Christ
 The human experience
 Conclusion

Introduction:
This morning we begin a new sermon series looking at certain aspects of
theology
   - Theology is a word that simply means words or discourse about
      God
   - So theology is essentially talking about God
   - Whenever you talk about God – you’re doing theology

The question we are considering this morning is: Does God suffer?
  - Let’s start with a story…

Love vs. Apathy:
Once upon a time there lived a wise and wealthy king
  - So great was his wisdom that people would come from many miles
      around just to listen to him speak
  - Whenever someone had a problem they couldn’t solve, the people
      involved would explain their problem to the king and seek a
      solution

In this king’s realm there lived two women
    - And, more by necessity than by choice, both of them were
       prostitutes

Both the women flatted together in the same house and both of them
became pregnant
   - As it happened each woman gave birth to a son
   - And, because they had become pregnant around the same time,
      their babies were only three days apart in age
One night, not long after the babies were born,
  - One of the women woke up to a tragedy
  - She had smothered her son to death, by accident, while they both
      slept together in the same bed
  - In her panic and shock the mother quickly swapped her dead child
      for the other woman’s living child,
  - So that it would seem as if the other woman had smothered her son
      by accident

When this other woman woke to find a dead baby lying in the bed beside
her, it was as if a sword had pierced her soul
   - In an instant her joy was turned to pain
   - But then, as the sun rose more fully
   - The mother realized that the dead baby in her bed was not the baby
        she had given birth to

She rushed into the other room to find her son alive and at the side of her
flat-mate
    - Her relief at seeing her son alive was soon overwhelmed by a
      feeling of anger as she demanded her son back
    - But her flat-mate refused, saying the living child was hers

Soon the neighbours became aware of the women shouting as they argued
who the living son belonged to
  - When it became clear that neither woman was going to back down
  - They both agreed to take their case to the king for him to decide
  - Even though prostitution was a despised occupation in that
      kingdom
  - The two women still felt able to approach their king for help

The wise king sat calmly, watching and listening, as the two women
explained what had happened
   - And argued between themselves as to who was the true mother of
      the child
   - That this wise and busy king would set aside time to hear their case
      seemed remarkable to many in the king’s court,
   - Perhaps, in his wisdom, he knew that history judges a nation more
      on the way it treats the weak and despised in its own society,
   - Than on its GDP or military conquests

As the two women argued, the king realized that he didn’t have much to
go on
   - Neither woman could provide evidence to prove who the true
     mother was
   - No one else lived in the house with the two women
   - So there were no witnesses
   - And DNA testing hadn’t been invented yet
   - So the king had no choice but to create another kind of test

The king summed up the case before him, saying…
  - “You both say the living child is yours
  - Clearly you can’t both be telling the truth
  - The child can only have one biological mother
  - But since you both seem to want the boy so much I’ll let you share
      him
  - Guard – take a sword and cut the living child in two
  - Then give half to one and half to other”

                             [Display slide 1]

The woman whose son was alive was filled with compassion for her son
and said to the king, “Please, my lord, give her the living baby! Don‟t kill
him!”
   - But the other woman said, “Neither I nor you shall have him. Cut
      him in two!”
   - Then the king gave his ruling: “Give the living baby to the first
      woman. Do not kill him; she is his mother.”
   - When all Israel heard the verdict the king had given, they held the
      king in awe, because they saw that he had wisdom from God to
      administer justice.

That story is, of course, the story of Solomon’s wisdom
  - The text tell us that Solomon’s wisdom came from God
  - And that God’s justice is for everyone – including those most
      despised in society

                         [Stop displaying slide 1]

Solomon knew about love
   - Solomon knew that it is impossible to love someone without being
     affected by that person
   - Solomon knew that when we truly love someone
   - We will be impacted, moved and influenced by them and by their
     condition
Solomon made out that he was going to harm the baby in order to see
how this affected or moved the two women

The first woman was moved with compassion
  - The first woman identified so strongly with the baby
  - She was so affected by the threat to the baby’s life
  - That she was willing to change her position
  - She was willing to give up her son in order that he might live

The second woman however was not moved at all
  - In fact the second woman appeared to be completely unaffected
  - She was apathetic toward the fate of the child saying: go ahead
      then, cut him in two – I don‟t care – whatever

Compassion verses apathy
  - Affected verses unaffected
  - Moved to make a personal sacrifice verses unmoved and
    ambivalent

Solomon had his answer
   - The true mother of the child was the mother who was affected by
     the baby’s fate
   - Because you can’t love someone without being affected by his or
     her condition
   - To love is to be affected
   - To love is to be moved to make a personal sacrifice
   - To love is to suffer

                              [Display slide 2]
                2 Opposing Views of God
           Pagan View                      Jewish/Christian View

        God is apathetic                 God is love
        God is impassible                God is compassionate


        God cannot feel                  God does feel
        God is not affected              God is affected


        God does not suffer              God does suffer
On the wall there is a diagram of two opposing perspectives on God
  - One perspective, the pagan perspective, says that God is apathetic
      and impassible
  - To say that God is apathetic is to say that God does not feel
      anything
  - Apathy simply means the absence of emotion
  - And to say that God is impassible is to say that God is unmoved by
      suffering
  - Impassible simply means unsusceptible to pain or injury
  - So the pagan view says that God does not suffer and in fact can not
      suffer

The other perspective, the Jewish / Christian perspective, says that God is
love and that God is compassionate
   - To say that God is compassionate is to say that God suffers with us
   - Com is a Latin word meaning „with‟ and Passion is a Latin word
      meaning „suffering‟
   - Hence com-passion literally means to suffer with
   - Compassion is the opposite of impassibility
   - To say that God is love is to say that God is affected by the
      suffering of those he loves
   - Because, as Solomon’s (God given) wisdom shows us
   - The true lover is always affected (or moved) by the object of his or
      her love
   - Love is the opposite of apathy
   - So the Jewish / Christian view says that God does suffer
   - To love is to suffer – God is love – therefore God suffers

However, Christian thinkers and theologians have not always held this
view
   - For hundreds of years many Christians held a pagan view on the
     question of God’s suffering
   - Many of the early leading Christian theologians were influenced by
     the pre-Christian pagan Greek philosophies of Plato & Aristotle

                         [Stop displaying slide 2]

Plato & Aristotle reckoned that God was perfect
   - Nothing wrong with that you might think
   - Except that their concept of perfection said that God could not
      change
   - For them it was impossible for a perfect being to be affected or
     changed by anything outside of itself
   - So, if God is perfect, then he can’t feel
   - Because to feel is to risk being affected or moved or changed by
     something outside oneself
   - Love makes you vulnerable

Early Christian theologians like Anselm of Canterbury and Thomas
Aquinas
   - Who otherwise had a valuable contribution to make to Christian
      theology
   - Picked up this pagan concept of an unfeeling, unchangeable God
      and they defended it
   - They believed that God does good things for us without being
      moved by a feeling
   - They said that God was only compassionate in terms of our
      experience, but not in terms of the divine being itself
   - They argued that God’s love was merely an expression of his care
      and goodwill toward us,
   - Done without feeling or affection on his part

Now if we think about that for a moment – it doesn’t really add up
  - I mean, how can you separate the feeling of affection from an act
     of love?
  - That would be like trying to take the pips out of a passion fruit
  - It’s not a passion fruit without the pips
  - Or it’s like trying to fillet whitebait
  - It’s impossible – not to mention pointless
  - Doing something good for someone else’s wellbeing without
     feeling anything for that person, is not love
  - It’s something else – it could be duty or penance or manipulation
  - But it’s not love

Of course, this pagan idea that God is unfeeling and unaffected by his
creation is challenged by some inconvenient truths
   - Both in Scripture and in human experience

For example, if God is unaffected and unchangeable then what do we do
with passages of Scripture where God seems to show emotion and change
his mind after listening to a human being
   - Like when the people of Israel made the golden calf in the desert,
      after the Exodus, and God felt angry
   - So angry that he talked about destroying all the people and starting
     again with Moses
   - But Moses managed to change God’s mind
   - Moses managed to talk God out of it

God’s suffering in Christ:
Then there is the fairly obvious and more difficult inconvenient truth of
Jesus’ suffering and death
   - If you say that Jesus Christ is; God the Son
   - That he is divine as well as human
   - That he is one of the Holy Trinity
   - Then you can not also say that God is unfeeling or unaffected or
       unmoved by suffering

Because Christ suffered – God also suffered
  - At the very least, God the Trinity, must have suffered, in and
     through Christ

If we look at the life of Jesus – who the Bible says is God’s revelation of
God’s self to human kind
    - Then we can see, quite clearly, that God is affected by the
       condition of those around him
    - John chapter 11, from verse 32, reads…

                             [Display slide 3]

When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at
his feet and said,
   - “Lord, if you had been here, my brother [Lazarus] would not have
       died.”
   - When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come along
       with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.
   - “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
   - “Come and see Lord,” they replied.
   - Jesus wept.
   - Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

Jesus loved Lazarus and Mary and Martha
   - And so when Lazarus died and Mary and Martha were grieving
   - Jesus was deeply moved
   - So moved that he wept also

                         [Stop displaying slide 3]
Of course, Jesus wasn’t only moved by other people’s suffering
   - God the Son and God the Father were both moved, both affected,
      by Jesus’ suffering on the cross
   - Although not in the same way
   - God the Son suffered in a different way to God the Father

The Son suffers the pain and death of the cross as well as the feeling of
being forsaken & abandoned by God
   - The Father, however, suffers as a parent who looses or gives up
      their child
   - God the Father’s suffering was a bit like the suffering of the
      prostitute who was moved to give up her son in order to save him
   - Only it’s a bit different, because God the Father was giving up his
      Son in order to save us – his creation
   - God feels for us like a mother feels for her new born baby

The Human Experience:
Over the past 20 centuries the Christian Church (with a capital “C”) has
been through a real process of spiritual re-formation over the question of
God’s suffering
   - For hundreds of years the Church thought they had a handle on
      God being unfeeling and unchanging
   - I suppose it gave people a sense of security about God (even if it
      was a false sense of security)
   - And it allowed the Church to be unfeeling toward others
   - To persecute those who were different
   - And to hold inquisitions and crusades and so on
   - But the Church needed to go through a time of disorientation
   - So this pagan belief about an unfeeling, unchanging God could be
      deconstructed
   - And a new, truer, understanding of God could emerge
   - Unfortunately it would take hundreds of years and much spilled
      blood for this to happen

The First World War was a significant collective human experience in
challenging the widespread belief that God is unfeeling and unmoved by
our circumstances
   - After the horrors and suffering of that war
   - And the suffering of the flu epidemic of 1918, which killed
       millions more again
   - Most survivors found it impossible to sustain a belief in an
       unfeeling God who was unmoved by human misery
   - There arose a movement known as protest atheism
   - Many people gave up their belief in the very existence of God at all
   - Because it was just too hard to believe in a God who is above such
     suffering and pain in the world

A leading theologian of the 20th Century, by the name of Jurgen
Moltmann put it like this…

                             [Display slide 4]

A God who cannot suffer is poorer than any human. For a God who is
incapable of suffering is a being who cannot be involved. Suffering and
injustice do not affect him. And because he is so completely insensitive,
he cannot be affected or shaken by anything. He cannot weep, for he has
no tears. But the one who cannot suffer cannot love either. So he is also a
loveless being.

Moltmann’s point is that a God who cannot suffer is not perfect
  - In fact, a God who cannot suffer would be less than human
  - Because a God who cannot suffer, cannot love
  - So why would anyone believe in a God like that?
  - If God was apathetic then atheism would be justified
  - But God is not apathetic – God is love

                         [Stop displaying slide 4]

Now, the important thing that Moltmann wants us to note in all this
  - Is that God cannot be forced to suffer or undergo change
  - Rather, God volunteers, of his own free will, to undergo suffering
  - So God’s love is not obligation or duty
  - God’s love is a free choice

God chooses to make himself vulnerable to humanity
  - God chooses to allow himself to be affected by our condition
  - God chooses to open himself up to suffering
  - God freely chooses to be moved by our pain
  - Both corporately and personally, I believe

For God so loved the world
  - For God was so affected by the world
  - For God was so moved by the world
  - For God felt so deeply with and for the world
  - That he gave his only Son
   - So that whoever believes in him would not die but have everlasting
     life

The thing about God that does not change, is his choice to love us
  - And go on loving us
  - God’s love, his suffering with us and for us, is unchanging

Conclusion:
How do you perceive God?
  - Does God seem apathetic, detached and unaffected to you?
  - Or have you experienced God in your own suffering?

I believe God is affected by our condition
   - I believe God feels with us and for us
   - If you are suffering some loss or are in touch with some pain at the
       moment
   - Then God knows that
   - He knows what suffering and pain are like from his own
       experience of loss
   - But more than that, he is actually experiencing what you are feeling
       as I speak
   - Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that when we suffer we are
       actually feeling what God is experiencing
   - When we are hurting and in pain we are participating in God’s
       suffering
   - It is impossible to know God without sharing in his experience of
       suffering love, at least to some degree

Suffering is par for the course on the road to intimacy with God
   - And, as a community of God’s people, we are called to stand in
      solidarity with others who suffer, as Jesus did

What is it that affects you?
  - What is it that makes you weep?
  - What is it that moves you?
  - What is it that changes you?
  - What are you prepared to make sacrifices for?
  - What are you prepared to suffer for?

That is what you love
  - That is who you love

								
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