The Johannine gospel reveals the reciprocal love between the Father and the Son. Jesus reveals what his Father meant to him in the language of love: “I am in the Father, and the Father is in me” (Jn 14:10). Jesus speaks of our participation in this divine life: “You will understand that I am in my Father, and you in me and I in you” (Jn 14:20). The relationship is one of love, and this outpouring of love is the Spirit, a divine person. The Father-Son relationship is the centerpiece of this gospel, and though inseparable and distinct from the Father and Son, the Spirit proceeds from both by way of love. It was not necessary for the Father to command his Son to suffer. Love sees the need and responds to it.
Jesus’ Solidarity with humankind
Doesn’t the scene of the Agony in the Garden surprise us? On the verge of crisis, Jesus prays not for strength, courage, and acceptance of his Father’s will. Instead we witness the human repugnance, the horror, the revolt, and the effort to escape. With the arrival of the final hour, Jesus becomes everyman when he cries out with the Psalmist, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (Ps 22:1). He pours himself out, “tasting death for everyone” (Heb 2:9), but his plea is made without despairing.
Jesus seeks consolation from his Father, because his life has been spent pleasing his Father (Jn 8:29). But now, he feels abandoned by the one he most loves. It is as if the Father loads on him the full burden of sin that is absolutely opposed to God. How can this be? The one who is God’s Word in the world seems dumb. And yet, Jesus trusts his Father to the very end. Psalm 22 ends on a note of hope; the Lord has not hidden his face from the suffering soul.
Finally, “it is finished,” and Jesus releases his Spirit (Jn 19:30). His powerlessness is shot through with God’s power to save, and his obedience of love is raised high in final glorification. Everything has been pared down to two aspects of one reality: love as the reason for his suffering and total dependency on the Father.
Suffering is Not Passive
Although Jesus has fulfilled the Scriptures, his suffering is not that of a passive man but of one who actively receives and responds. The drama of Jesus’ suffering of love was undertaken pro me and pro nobis, and every man and woman is a player on the stage of this spectacular tableau. Each of us is Judas and Peter, the thieves, the crowds, and the guards, Simon, Veronica, and the beloved disciple. To the question, why suffering, we respond: the cross is illogical and has always contradicted human logic. It is a folly, a scandal, a stumbling-block (1Cor 1: 21-22). For the disciple of Christ, the only logic is that of love; it alone is credible. At the same time, the Psalmist has the Israelites pour out their complaints to the Lord and tell him of all their troubles. They do so repeatedly.
Most of us boast of self-sufficiency. We repudiate Christ’s condition as foolishness, at least emotionally. But Jesus helps his disciples to make sense out of suffering, not according to the human way of thinking, but according to his. He brings his followers to the cross and, sooner or later, expects us to understand it as his very own logic. Paul declares that the cross is God’s wisdom and power to save. St. Catherine of Siena exclaims: “Oh, Loving Madman! Was it not enough for Thee to become Incarnate that Thou must also die?” (The Dialogue, 91).
God’s Foolishness: Moses and Job
The Hebrew Scriptures initiate us into God’s folly. In the Book of Exodus, despite Yahweh’s commands that Moses seek the release of his people from the Pharaoh, Moses is forewarned. God will make the ruler obstinate so that he will refuse the request. Is this not sheer madness? When all seems lost, God’s inscrutable logic saves the Jews in the Passover-Exodus event. God’s foolishness is wiser than Moses’ logic.
(Column continues below)
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
At Catholic News Agency, our team is committed to reporting the truth with courage, integrity, and fidelity to our faith. We provide news about the Church and the world, as seen through the teachings of the Catholic Church. When you subscribe to the CNA UPDATE, we'll send you a daily email with links to the news you need and, occasionally, breaking news.
As part of this free service you may receive occasional offers from us at EWTN News and EWTN. We won't rent or sell your information, and you can unsubscribe at any time.
The Book of Job as offers another example of God’s folly. Job has proved himself a good and faithful servant. A man who has everything suddenly loses all. His loss is unmerited. Anguish afflicts body and soul. He condemns himself and rubs in his failures. Curse God, his friends urge, but he refrains from doing so. The first point the Book of Job makes is that suffering is not evidence of sin. When Job’s friends muse that he has sinned to deserve such misery, the reader knows differently. Job’s suffering was a test of his faith. Even as he grew angry with God for being unjust–wishing he could sue him in a court of law–he never abandons his belief.
Job’s moral outrage prompts God’s response, thereby demonstrating that the sufferer who believes is never alone. God’s voice “out of the whirlwind” carries a less than satisfying response: “Where were you when I laid the Earth’s foundations? Do you really want to reverse my judgment, and put me in the wrong to put you in the right” (Job 40:83)? God’s designs are inscrutable. Though God’s answer does not fully satisfy, Job has no response and falls silent. God’s foolishness is wiser that Job’s protests. The New Testament too is filled with examples of God’s foolishness transformed into joy.
Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross
On September 14th, the Church “lifts high the cross” because God’s weakness and folly prove wiser and stronger than the wisdom and strength of creatures. Suffering has no human logic. Still, in his human nature, Jesus shows us how to suffer. Without suffering out of love, acceptance of pain is a servile act. The lesson is simple, if maddening.
Like Moses and Job, we do not save ourselves in the way we want. Each of us is saved by God’s providential power and our cooperation expressed through “the obedience of faith,” the attitude which was Christ’s. The folly of human suffering becomes our glory, but we see this only after the fact. It is a paradox.