Today we get to hear from my friend Brian Zahnd. He’s been a huge influence over the years and I was honored to have him as the “Afterword” for Echoing Hope: How the Humanity of Jesus Redeems our Pain.
“Does God hurt with us?” This is a deeply personal question that cuts to the root of our theology and lives. Since early in the history of Christian theology, certain versions of the doctrine of “divine impassibility” (which argue that God remains untouched by suffering) suggested that the answer to that question is no.
But then came the twentieth century. Advancements in technology tragically increased human suffering, and increased the stakes of the ancient question. At the same time as our species was making significant advancements in medical science that lessened the suffering from disease, we also learned how to mechanize war and subject entire regions to totalitarian control.
From the Gatling gun to the hydrogen bomb, from the Third Reich to Pol Pot, the capacity to inflict suffering became exponential—and cast the ancient question in a new light. The crematoriums of Auschwitz and the killing fields of Cambodia haunt our memories and torture our imaginations. In the ghastly light of the Holocaust, the language of divine impassibility became untenable. From a cell in the Flossenbürg concentration camp, shortly before his execution at the hands of the Nazis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer penned these words: “Only the suffering God can help.”
The triune God not only knows the sufferings of Christ but also knows the sufferings of each and every one of us. But this truth does not stop with abstract theology. It can become part of our lives. For that to happen, we must find better ways of talking about God and our suffering. This is what Bonhoeffer—as a theologian, a pastor, and a sufferer—understood.
The God revealed in Jesus Christ is all-loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful. Yet the world we live in is full of unjust suffering. We confess that the living God is love, yet babies get brain cancer and brides die on their wedding days. How do we reconcile this? We can’t ignore the problem of pain.
Kurt Willems understands that without authentic freedom, we do not actually exist as authentic beings. We are more than just a movie playing in God’s head. We have will. We have freedom. We have choice—and all the possibility and pain that choice contains. To be something other than a figment of God’s imagination, we must have some degree of real freedom. But that freedom seems to come at a high price.
But here is the good news—God does not stand aloof from us. God participates in our suffering. Through Christ, the “Man of Sorrows,” human suffering mysteriously entered the fellowship of the Trinity. This is not merely the comfort of divine solidarity with human suffering (though it’s that too); rather, Christian hope asserts that suffering is not the end.
The apostle Peter echoed Isaiah when he said, “by his wounds you were healed” (1 Peter 2:24; Isaiah 53:5). What Echoing Hope has shown us is that when we bring our wounds to the wounds of Christ, it does not multiply woundedness but begins the healing process. Yet Christian hope for healing in Christ is even more bold, for we confess that in the end death itself will be fully undone. This undoing began on the first Easter and now, amid our woundedness, we await the day when death is destroyed “so that God may be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28).
It is not human pain, but divine love, that will have the final say.
This is our echoing hope.
—Brian Zahnd, lead pastor of Word of Life Church
[This newsletter/blog contains excerpts from Echoing Hope: How the Humanity of Jesus Redeems our Pain. It is copywritten material. All rights reserved by the author, Kurt Willems, and the publisher WaterBrook, an Imprint of Random House. © 2021.]
✓ Video Series, “Behind the Scenes”: 17 video reflections on the process of creating each chapter in Echoing Hope. (Available March 16)
✓ Sermon Series Resource: An “Echoing Hope” sermon series resource is currently in production. For pastors and bible study leaders — I’m creating sermon graphics for presentations, digital art for social media and promotion, a week-by-week sermon preparation guide, ‘bumper’ and ‘countdown’ videos, and more (available, spring 2021).
✓ Small Group Video Series: If you’ve seen the book trailer and short film we produced for the book, we are working toward making a series of high quality videos to facilitate small group and/or book club discussions. (available, late-spring — early-summer 2021).