There is a theological truth that we cannot ignore and that is this: If God cannot change then he cannot be said to ‘suffer’ as a consequence of events which happen in the world. However, because God is a Holy & Righteous God full of love and compassion, the Bible says that there are things that “grieve God’s heart” in this world. And perhaps in that sense God does suffer.
Certainly, Jesus…God in the flesh…suffered on the cross for our sins as our representative. He speaks of his death as a cup [a metaphor in context of suffering]. In Matthew 23 it implies that Christ wept when he cried out over the city of Jerusalem. And Hebrews 4 teaches us our High Priest can sympathize with our weaknesses. Jesus wept at Lazarus’s grave in John 11 indicating grief. Paul commands us in Ephesians 4 not to grieve the Holy Spirit. And Genesis 6 speaks of God being grieved to his heart over the corruption of the world before He sent the flood.
Because I want to know God better I have been thinking about this idea. I am reading an interesting book entitled “The Suffering God” by Terence E. Fretheim. Would I recommend the book? No, for Fretheim believes in process theology [which teaches among other things that God is in some respects temporal, mutable, and passible] and open theism [which is a natural outcome of process theology]. Both of these propositions I categorically reject as false, unbiblical and heretical. Yet the title captured my attention and some of the author’s thoughts set me to thinking about God as one who can and does suffer.
Take for instance the anguish of God in Jeremiah 2. Jeremiah paints the picture of Israel’s rebellion against God in marital terms. We see Israel as the unfaithful wife for no reason, and then we observe God as the grieved spouse. As you read these words, they wrench your heart as you hear the anguish of God over his people’s disregard of their relationship with Him. This painful cry of God is repeated throughout the opening chapters of Jeremiah [2,3,5,13,16,17,18,19]. The implication that God is grieved and wounded over the sin of his people is unmistakable.
Let me express just a few thoughts as we think this through.
First, this is a holy God that is grieved. Especially does this come out in the Genesis 6 passage dealing with the flood judgment. Thus, grief is always what the Godward side of judgment looks like. God’s judgment is a very personal decision mixed with sorrow and anger that go into making the decisions that will affect the people whom He loves. It is also a very Holy decision because God is Holy and cannot act in any other way. Yet God is never apathetic, cold or indifferent when it comes to his responses.
Second, God is not waylaid, incapacitated or made weak by His suffering. Fretheim did make an astute observation when he said: “God’s grief does not entail being emotionally overwhelmed or embittered by the barrage of rejection. Through it all, God’s faithfulness and gracious purposes remain constant and undiminished.”
Last, we need to ask the probing question of ourselves: Have I caused God to suffer because I have grieved His Spirit and refused to listen to His word and undervalued my relationship to Him? Think it thru