Moltmann Monday: Christian Solidarity with Suffering

Today’s Moltmann Monday quote comes from The Crucified God in his chapter on the identity and relevance of faith. He begins by writing,

In Christianity the cross is the test of everything which deserves to be called Christian. One may add that the cross alone, and nothing else, is its test, since the cross refutes everything, and excludes the syncretistic elements in Christianity. This is a hard saying. To many it sounds unattractive and unmodern, and to others rigid and orthodox. I will try to disappoint both.

Near the end of the same chapter, he says,

The crucified Christ became the brother of the despised, abandoned, and oppressed. And this is why brotherhood with the ‘least of his brethren’ is a necessary part of brotherhood with Christ and identification with him. Thus Christian theology must be worked out amongst these people and with them. It is ‘contemporary’ theology when its thought is conducted in the sufferings of the present time, and this means in concrete terms, amongst and with those who suffer in this society…

Christian identification with the crucified necessarily brings him into solidarity with the alienated of this world, with the dehumanized and the inhuman. But this solidarity becomes radical only if it imitates the identification of the crucified Christ with the abandoned, accepts the suffering of creative love, and is not led astray by its own dreams of omnipotence in an illusory future. 

One of the reasons The Crucified God was such an important and unique contribution to theology is because of Moltmann’s radical faithfulness to the idea that all theology must be placed at the foot of the cross, or at its center, to determine whether it could stand. And that’s not an easy place to take an idea, which is why Moltmann says it’s a ‘hard saying.’ . Try it…the prosperity gospel? Nope. Works righteousness? Nope. God over and above the suffering world? Definitely not.

The scandal that what is rightly called Christian must first be tested by Christ’s cross eliminates much of what is commonly said about God, and much of what is commonly done in Christ’s name. Namely, any theology, church, or denomination whose identity is not in deep solidarity with the poor, the outcast, the despised and oppressed.

While Moltmann says any Christian theology must therefore be worked out amongst these people and with them, we have inherited a Western Christianity that contains mostly voices of the most privileged among us and a Christian history that has done much to silence any voices to the contrary. It is a critique we must sit underneath, while in the shadow of the cross, and ask ourselves some hard questions.

It’s not easy to be in solidarity with the alienated of this world. As someone who is deeply troubled by the flippant and derogatory way Trump speaks of those he seeks to undermine, and the way this past election and the days since have lowered our most basic levels of human decency, I have felt heavy. As there is no sign it will improve, I came to realize this burden of worry was going to have to stay with me for four more years. And nobody wants to sign up for that. Nobody thinks solidarity with the oppressed is a fun time. It is a dying to self and a refutation of privilege. The very fact that I had the option of carrying the burden of worry at all humbled me enough to remember that many have carried it every day of their lives, so I should probably stop whining about four years.

If, as Moltmann says, I want this solidarity to be appropriately Christian and therefore radical, it requires my identity to be bound up with the identity of those who are mocked and abandoned and derided. It requires me to accept the suffering that is a natural consequence of living as a person of creative love in a world often in opposition to it. It requires me to let go of any desire for power in the days ahead, and instead place my faith in the rightness of the work at my feet and in my hands, today.

I think the Church, and all of us who call ourselves Christians (which, to remind you, means “little Christs”) will have plenty of chances to discover how radical our solidarity is in the days ahead. My prayer is that we look honestly at what we find, and repent as needed.

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