Tuesday, October 05, 2004


Once they told Rabbi Pinhas of the great misery among the needy. He listened, sunk in grief. Then he raised his head. “Let us draw God into the world,” he cried, “and all need will be quenched.” God’s grace consists precisely in this, that God wants to .. be won by humanity, placing Godself, so to speak, into human hands. God wants to come to the world, but to come to it through men and women. This is the mystery of our existence, the superhuman chance of humankind.
(Martin Buber).

Writing from the depths of Judaism, Buber and Pinhas remind us that the One who Christians meet in Christ is not a God whose incarnation begins and ends with the history of Jesus. This is the deep truth that traditional Christian language seeks to capture by picturing for us the 'pre-existence' of the logos and the gift of resurrection.

Rendered 'metaphysically', those concepts may cause us moderns no end of problems. Understood as encounter-beyond-words they call forth that God-with-usness which gazes right back at us in Jesus, even down to his demanding non-recognition (Matthew 25).

Picking up on this Jewish and Christian experience, theologian Ruth Page has suggested that 'pansyntheism' (God-with-all) may be a better descriptor for 'the incarnate God' than either stand-alone theism or panentheism (God-in-all, as favoured by process thinkers). The former is too aloof; the latter blurs the respective freedoms of God and creation while seeking their rightful congruence.

Meanwhile, what sticks out like a (very) sore thumb in Pinhas's prose is his near-suggestion that suffering itself may be quenched. I can't swallow that. The risen Christ is imaged with the wounds of crucifixion still impressed upon him. In a universe where love's possibility involves the lesions of contingency, suffering cannot be effaced. Nor, mostly, can the painful need it causes be satisfied. But even so, those who suffer can be faced, given worth and hope.

For this, as Bonhoeffer put it - and we shall have to live with the anthropomorphism - "only a suffering God will do." Not a God who denies, inflicts or disowns suffering, but a God who embraces it (and its victims) through unquenchable love.

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