Unfortunately the history of Christianity and of many other religions is sprinkled with the dire consequences of blind faith and it is the horror of this spectacle that helps in large measure the rejection of all religion by many thoughtful people. (UF, 2).While religious belief is not a purely rational enterprise, it does contain elements which require careful, deliberate, and logical thinking.
How are we to talk about a God who is revealed as love in a situation characterized by poverty and oppression? How are we to proclaim the God of life to men and women who die prematurely and unjustly? How are we to acknowledge that God makes us a free gift of love and justice when we have before us the suffering of the innocent? What words are we to use in telling those who are not even regarded as persons that they are the daughters and sons of God? These are key questions being asked in the theology that has been forming in Latin America and in other places throughout the world where the situation is the same. (OJ, xiv).
For, if thou art passionless, thou dost not feel sympathy, thy heart is not wretched from sympathy for the wretched; but this is to be compassionate. But if thou art not compassionate, whence cometh so great consolation to the wretched? (P, 13-14).Anselm answers his own query by stating that God is compassionate in terms of our experience, but not so in terms of God's being. While we experience the effect of God's compassion, God does not.
I don't know what it means for God to suffer. I don't believe that God is a person like me, with real eyes and real tearducts to cry and real nerve endings to feel pain. But I would like to think that the anguish I feel when I read of the sufferings of innocent people reflects God's anguish and God's compassion, even if His way of feeling pain is different from ours. I would like to think that He is the source of my being able to feel sympathy and outrage, and that He and I are on the same side when we stand with the victim against those who would hurt him. (WBTHTGP, 92-93).Kushner believes that his offer of sympathy became acceptable when people realised that he too had suffered (from the death of his son) whereas as a young rabbi, healthy, gainfully employed, his efforts to aid people in sorrow were resisted. Now that he was really a brother in suffering, they were able to let him help them. There is a strong tendency in us to think that those who have had similar experiences are in a better position not only to understand us but also to offer help. Why then is there a reluctance to extend that observation to our understanding of God's character?
The poor person is the byproduct of the system in which we live and for which we are responsible. He is the oppressed, the exploited, the proletarian, the one deprived of the fruit of his labor and despoiled of being a person. For that reason the poverty of the poor person is not a call for a generous act which will alleviate his misery but rather a demand for building a different social order. (LCEF, 25).The experience of Latin Americans (and various groups in different countries who are experiencing oppression and exploitation) has helped focus on the image of God as Liberator. The challenge for thembut one may add, to us all no matter where we areis 'how to find a way of speaking about God that springs from the situation created by unjust poverty in which the great majority of the people live' and 'to find language that talks of hope which buoys up a people struggling for its liberation.' (C, 30). They have turned for an answer to God the Liberator who favours the poor and the oppressed and assists in their struggle. Such a turn necessarily entails the repudiation and removal of false gods.
No spirituality that claims to be Asian can disregard the plight of these marginalised and suffering millions, for they are the majority of Asia's people. To be relevant, spirituality in Asia cannot be an elitist or a 'pie in the sky' spirituality, but one that responds to people's needs and situations. It must concern itself with people's struggles against dehumanising economic and political conditions, as well as with their aspirations for a more humane and egalitarian society. It must concern itself with countering those cultural and psychological elements that demean and subjugate, and with creating new patterns of relationships that make life worth living. In a word, spirituality in Asia must be a liberating spirituality. (Ibid., 1-2).Given these realities, what is implied when we speak of God as Liberator, as one who gives life and hope in the midst of suffering? It seems to me that it is to recognise that a task lies ahead of us to change the situation whenever it cripples and even kills rather than frees people. Theodore Walker makes this point from the perspective of black theology: '...black theology knows, from the data of human experience, that the experience of suffering from oppression entails a desire to be liberated from such suffering. Hence, it follows that the God who experiences the suffering of the oppressed also desires their liberation.' (CHCG, 1). It means that siding with the victims of suffering does not mean inaction. Instead, it should spur us on to participate in God's work of liberating us from all kinds of oppression. Or as Gustavo Gutierrez puts it, 'Yahweh too has limits, which are self-imposed. Human beings are insignificant in Job's judgment, but they are great enough for God, the almighty, to stop at the threshold of their freedom and ask for their collaboration in the building of the world and in its just governance.' (OJ, 79). Victorio Araya echoes this point: 'The true God does not replace human beings in the task of re-creating and transforming the world.' (GP, 150). Here too Schillebeeckx's words are particularly apt: 'What is at stake here is not simply the ethical consequence of the religious or theological life; rather, ethical praxis becomes an essential component of a life directed to God, of "the true knowledge of God"...God is accessible above all in the praxis of justice and love.' (FSG,, 101-102). In short, it is through us and with us that God liberates others from their miserable situation just as it is through others and in others that we experience the reality of God's sympathy. How and to what extent we are called upon to participate in God's work of liberation will, of course, vary depending on our circumstances.
© Santiago Sia, 1996.
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