Does the Father Suffer?Jean-Pierre Batut
“What in God’s own life is a death to self, which is one with the super-abundance of life, becomes a passage through death to Resurrection when God enters into contact with the sinful reality of earthly existence.”
All of the contingent “humiliations” of God in the economy of salvation are always already included and surpassed in the eternal event of Love.1
No one ought to broach the topic of God’s suffering without fear and trembling. Voltaire is right. It is bad enough for man to deform the image of God in himself. But it is even worse for him to make himself a God after his own image. When it comes to God, such human projections can be both positive and negative, as Nietzsche rightly points out. But since, in spite of that, we must still venture something on the subject, let us begin by listening to a voice that attests for us just how ancient Christian reflection on it is. Already in the third century, we find Origen writing this in his Commentary on Ezekiel2:
The Savior came down to earth out of pity for the human race. He suffered our passions before suffering on the Cross, even before deigning to take our flesh: for if he had not suffered them first, he would not have come to take part in our human life. What is this passion that he suffered for us beforehand? It is the passion of love [passio caritatis]. But the Father himself, the God of the universe, he who is full of long-suffering, mercy, and pity, does he not suffer in some way? Or do you not know that, when he concerns himself with human affairs, he suffers a human passion? “For the Lord your God has taken on himself your ways, like someone who takes upon himself his child.” God thus takes upon himself our ways, as the Son of God takes upon himself our passions. The Father himself is not impassible. If one prays to him, he takes pity and is compassionate. He suffers a passion of love [passio caritatis].
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1. Hans Urs von Balthasar, Pâques le Mystère, 2nd ed. (Paris, 1981); preface to the second edition.
2. In Ez., 6.6. The text was rediscovered by Henri de Lubac, Histoire et Esprit (Paris: Aubier, 1950), 241.