by William J. Tsamis, M.A.
Saint Augustine wrote the following words about the Christian God:
He holds in his hands the causes of all things, knowing them all and connecting them all. Neither does his attention pass from thought to thought, for his knowledge embraces everything in one single spiritual intuitive embrace.
He is wholly present everywhere, is confined by no frontiers and bound by no hinderances; and though his nature has no need of either heaven and earth, he fills them both with his presence and his power.1
In the "Theodicy of the Cross," it is the incarnation, persecution, suffering, and death of the theanthropic person Jesus of Nazareth that is paramount. Indeed, as we address the question, "Why would a good and omnipotent God permit evil and suffering to exist?", we will find that "all roads eventually lead to Calvary." The monstrous phrase "the crucified God" was first used by Martin Luther, and then other Reformers to indicate that the one on the cross at Calvary was none other than God the Son, Jesus of Nazareth, who endured the evils of the cross, not only suffering and dying "for" mankind, but suffering and dying "with" mankind as well. Indeed, when suffering mankind looks upon the poor and humiliated Christ hanging there helplessly on the cross, it is then, and only then, that suffering mankind recognizes his own misery and suffering, seeing it in another human being (Jesus), and thus he experiences solidarity with Christ, receiving the love of God in Christ.
The contemporary German theologian Jurgen Moltmann recalls the Negro spiritual from the slave era, when black slaves sang in unison, "Were you there, when they crucified my Lord? We, the black slaves, were there with him in his agony."2 Moltmann goes on to quote another scholar who has contemplated the slavery/suffering issue in great depth:
In Jesus's death black slaves saw themselves, and they unleashed their imagination in describing what they felt and saw . . . His death was a symbol of their suffering, trials and tribulations in an unfriendly world. They knew the agony of rejection and the pain of hanging from a tree . . . Because black slaves knew the significance of the pain and shame of Jesus's death on the cross, they found themselves by his side.3
Thus, for all those who suffer, whether they are dying, enslaved, starving, humiliated, rejected, impoverished, isolated, marginalized, mocked, or experiencing convulsions of extreme pain -- we can say that, to the extent that men contemplate the suffering of Christ on the cross, to that extent they are freed from their own sufferings by experiencing the peace that Christ brings in solidarity.
Thus, on the cross of Calvary, Jesus Christ has become the archetype for all those who suffer. It is only in Christianity, in the mystery of the Incarnation, where God becomes man and experiences suffering in such a paradigmatic form (the passion and the crucifixion), where all those who have suffered in any form, can look upon the cross and experience union with God. And even when we feel "abandoned" by God, when it seems that God is not hearing our prayers, when it seems that God has left us, we can join in solidarity with Jesus, who cried out on the cross, "My God, My God, Why have you [abandoned] me?" As Moltmann remarks, "Through his own abandonment by God, the crucified Christ brings God to those who feel abandoned by God."4
Now to the point of the "Theodicy of the Cross," let's remember the words of Saint Augustine as he described God as an extra-temporal, omniscient, omnipotent Supreme Being - indeed the Mysterium Tremendum. Thus, with God there is no such thing as time - so when Augustine says that "[God's thoughts are not successive]," he is essentially implying that God embraces "all knowledge," ranging from the microbiological changes which are occuring in every species that has ever lived and will yet live, to the galactic motions and complexities of physics on the micro-atomic scale. His knowledge embraces the "sum of all occurences" (past, present, and future). He comprehends the "sum of all human mental activity" (past, present, and future), and he does so in "one single intuitive millithought." In less than the time it takes you to snap your fingers, God knows EVERYTHING - and I mean EVERYTHING. For instance, if we were to take the "sum of all occurrences in the universe since the dawn of cosmological existence, from the atomic/microbiological realm to the galactic realm, from the conscious to the unconscious realm, phenomenal and noumenal, etc. -- essentially "everything" that has ever happened in this universe, or is happening in this universe, and everything that will happen in this universe -- God "knows" it all, including the emotional and physical pains that every human being has suffered, whether on a level which is typical for all human beings, or whether it is within the "viscious circles" where cultures of poverty, alienation, racism, etc. brew their evils. Thus, God's empathy correlates with his omniscience on a level which is simply beyond our comprehension and imaginative abilities. God is utterly unfathomable; thus as Saint Athanasius once wrote, "We can barely touch the hem of his garment." He is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, who is, who was, and who is to come - the Almighty.
Now to the point! And here I will quote Fr. Malachi Martin, the late Jesuit professor at the Pontifical Institute in Rome, as he beautifully commented on "Why God decided to create the world as it is."
Creation was a decision that was integral in cause and effect from the start. God's view of what everybody would do at any given moment was identical with his view of what everybody did, does, and will do until the end of all time and space. That view was complete always. And every detail of the decision was taken integrally and wholly from eternity in view of every possible human action and reaction and result. The "centerpiece" of that decision was God's own choice to become man . . . God was to enter into an intimate relationship with matter, place, time, objects, and humans.5
Now, in applying this idea to "theodicy," I would say that the "centerpiece" of God's decision to create mankind, knowing the "actions, reactions, and results," was the very "cross of Calvary" where he would hang there "himself" between two criminals. "The Crucified God," then, is at the very epicenter of human existence. In other words, if we were to draw a circle, signifying the "sum total of reality in the universe - past, present, and future," and if we were to note within that circle various genocides, wars, exploitations, famines, and hundreds of other evils and sufferings, we would simply denote a "point" at the very center of that grand circle, and that "point" would symbolize "The Crucified God" at Calvary. Thus, in the synthesis of the transcendent God, the Triune God, the Incarnation, and the Passion and Crucifixion we find "a most grand and all-encompassing theodicy" -- yes, a reality of evil and suffering, but a reality where the God of the universe descends into the human realm, and experiences that evil and suffering, collectively in himself, suffering and dying "for" mankind, and suffering and dying "with" mankind. What wondrous love is this . . . ?
1. Saint Augustine, City of God
2. Jurgen Moltmann, The Crucified God, 1991
3. T. Lehmann, Negro Spirituals "Geshichte and Theologie," 1965 in Moltmann
5. Malachi Martin, Hostage to the Devil: The Possession and Exorcism of Five Living Americans, 1976
by William J. Tsamis, M.A.