Can God suffer?
In a hardly surprising answer given the title of the book in which it is found (The Crucified God), Jurgen Moltmann argues that the God who really is God must suffer if he is to be the kind of being worthy of this loftiest of descriptions. Suffering is not merely an experience God can stoop to. Rather, suffering is an experience that gets to the heart of what it means to be divine. After all,
...a God who cannot suffer is poorer than any man. For a God who is incapable of suffering is a being who cannot be involved. Suffering and injustice do not affect him. And because he is so completely insensitive, he cannot be affected or shaken by anything. He cannot weep, for he has no tears. But the one who cannot suffer cannot love either. So he is also a loveless being. Aristotle's God cannot love; he can only be loved by all non-divine beings by virtue of his perfection and beauty, and in this way draw them to him. The 'unmoved Mover' is a 'loveless Beloved'.
Perhaps this is part of what it means to be made in the image of God - we are fellow sufferers. We feel loss, we feel rejection, we feel distance, we feel pain, we feel injustice, and we weep over such things as those being conformed to the image of God in Christ. Indeed, our weeping is integral to our being conformed.
One of my favourite passages in Scripture is in Acts 20, when Paul is giving a farewell speech to the elders of the church in Ephesus. This is the last time they will see each other face to face, and emotions run high:
And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship.
More than any of the wondrous turns of phrase and theological profundities in Paul's New Testament letters, it is this short narrative that reveals the apostle's heart. The gospel creates the kind of friendships that make absence worth weeping over.
And Paul wept.
This should not surprise us. Paul is the man who wrote that if he had all faith and all knowledge but did not have love, he would be nothing.
Love is the sin qua non of Christianity, and because of this, so is suffering.