In the summer of 2007, my 16 year old daughter had her first active and debilitating flare of Lupus which then developed into a much more life threatening Lupus Nephritis. I wrote this meditation in the fall of 2007.
Watching my daughter suffer of course made me think a great deal about human suffering in general. I think about the Genesis 3 description of the Fall of humans and the consequence of that Fall. In Genesis the direct result to the humans of sinning against God is expulsion from Paradise and a life of suffering which ends in death. But mercifully, there is no mention at all in Genesis of suffering beyond the grave. No hell, no eternal or permanent punishment is envisioned. Death in Genesis is the final punishment. And in the New Testament, God in Christ saves us from sin and death. Death is the final enemy according to St. Paul. Thus we sing, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.” The merciful God spares us from the ultimate consequence of human sin – He saves us from death.
Notions of hell and eternal punishment emerged much later in Judaism and in early Christian thinking. But the New Testament is Good News of God’s love for us and plan of salvation for us. The New Testament’s message is not – life is full of sickness, sorrow, suffering, after which you die and are then judged and eternally damned by God. The New Testament is good news for all, not just for Jews, or the rich – God loves us and saves us from eternal punishment by forgiving our sins, by Christ dying for us, by Christ’s resurrection which shows the separation from God has come to an end. Eternal hell is reserved for a special class of people who refuse God’s love and who refuse to love others.
Of course I write all of this while I am wearied of human suffering – while I am praying that God will forgive our sins and deliver us from the sickness, sorrow and sighing of this present world. Enough suffering already.
I am not writing any dogmatic statement, but really writing from my heart about existence itself.
I have had a chance to read a few things as I passed away the hours in the hospital. I’ve read a series of sermons by St. John Chrysostom on the Martyrs. I also read a book on the Nazi Heydrich, “the face of evil” as he was called by the Czechoslovaks whose protectorate he ruled in 1941-1942. Hitler said Heydrich had a heart of iron (which even caused Hitler some consternation). Many felt Heydrich was Hitler’s chosen successor and the man perhaps most responsible for the death camps in Nazi Germany. Those who knew him said he had no human empathy and thus was willing to inflict all manners of suffering on others. He thought anyone who was not purely Aryan was not really human and so could be treated inhumanly and inhumanely.
Chrysostom in his sermons in the 390’s AD described the terrible tortures which the Roman government had inflicted on the Christians in the first three centuries of Christianity. Evil is ingenious when it comes to torture. One method of torture Chrysostom describes (he gave these sermons to the church in general, and one has to wonder whether people in our churches today would be too squeamish about such gore in a sermon) is that the Christians were made to stand before an idol, their upper arms bound to their sides with their lower arms and hands tied in front of them. The soldiers then forcibly dumped hot burning coals and incense into their hands (like dumping the censor in church into someone’s hands, or taking hot coals from the grill and placing them in their hands). If the Christian dropped the burning coals before the idol they were declared a pagan for making an offering to the idol. If they tried not to “make the offering” their hands were seriously burned and then after being left to suffer the excruciating pain of third degree burns which rendered their hands useless, later they were executed.
So staying awake long hours with my suffering daughter, reading about the torture of Christians, reading about the torture of humans under the Nazis, has also made me think that torturing other human beings, no matter who they are is wrong. Chrysostom even says that “no pious emperor (meaning a Christian emperor) ever chose to punish or torture a non-Christian man, forcing him to desist from his error.” St. John Chrysostom cannot even imagine that a Christian ruler would resort to torture of a non-Christian man. He sees torture as purely the work of the godless ruler. I know today many of us Americans are tempted to justify the use of torture in order to attain our goals as a nation. But if one reads the writings of the great Christian bishop John Chrysostom, and then reads the anti-Christian tirades of Heydrich (he hated Christianity) who accepts torture of non-Aryans as totally justified to protect the Nazi state and to achieve Nazi goals of world domination, then one has to really think very carefully about our own justification of the use of torture and which philosophy we are really following in this world.
I know some of you will find these last words “politically incorrect.” I offer them not as the dogma of the church, but as my own meditation on the suffering in this world.
One thought on “Deliver us from Suffering and Torture”
You don’t have to go back eighty years to dredge up tortures by the Nazis . More recent and germane to us as Greeks are the ones the junta engaged in in the seventies, remember?