I think all of us who have been watching the events in Ukraine unfold have experienced a flood of emotions, from despair to grief to anger. The horror of war, and the callousness of a frankly evil invader has been brought home to our generation in some of the same ways that it was to the generation that witnessed WW2.
I have been wondering if that generation of Christians and their experience has anything to teach us in the face of such brutality, suffering and violence?
Then I remembered some words from Dietrich Bonhoeffer. You might remember that Bonhoeffer was a German pastor who, when faced with the hatred and violence inflicted by the Nazis, decided to stand up against them. As a result, Bonhoeffer experienced suffering, he eventually was hung by the Nazis in the closing weeks of the war.
Out of his experience of personal suffering and from seeing everything that was happening around him, Bonhoeffer once wrote from his prison cell
“ONLY THE SUFFERING GOD CAN HELP.”
Bonhoeffer in the face of his suffering and that of the world around him looked to the cross. On the cross he saw not a God that was aloof and indifferent to suffering but a God that chose to suffer along side suffering humanity.
We often think of Jesus suffering “for us” for our sin, but Bonhoeffer reminds us that we can think of Jesus, of our God, suffering “with us” due to the sin of others. Through Jesus our God enters humanity and suffers alongside, us. This is why Bonhoeffer said only a suffering God can help. Our suffering God understands our suffering and through his suffering is ultimately dealing with the evil behind it.
I was reminded of this in the picture above. It’s a statue of the suffering Jesus from Lviv Cathedral, its being taken down and hidden from the invaders, the last time this happened it was taken down and hidden from the Nazis. The picture speaks to me of Jesus suffering alongside his people once more, becoming in a sense a refugee like them. .
Jurgen Moltmann was another German who experienced the horrors of WW2. He had been conscripted as a young man into the German Army and experienced first-hand what war meant before being captured. After the war he was confronted by the truth about the holocaust. Moltmann from his experience of suffering wrote a ground-breaking book called THE CRUCIFIED GOD. In that book he talked about the suffering God who through the cross chose to identify with the victims of violence, hatred and injustice.
As I see the horror of what is happening to innocent people in Ukraine, the only place I can turn to is the Crucified God, the suffering God, in prayer.