The first chapter of The Compassion of the Father is a paper that Father Boris Bobrinskoy presented to the association of Christians for the abolition of torture, and in which he addresses the Christian encounter with human suffering. Here we see the relationship between human suffering and sin, for “To speak of ‘passions’ or ‘sufferings,’ necessitates outlining their evil causes and the roots of sin.” (51)
“Sin is infinitely more than that to which our preaching has reduced it.” (51-52) Referring to the Suffering Servant of Deutero-Isaiah, Father Boris continues:
The singular and plural mixed terms. “He took up … our sorrows, our transgressions, our iniquities, the sins of many” represent both a human being and humanity – the one and the multiple Adam – united in solidarity and in a state of deep decay. A personal and collective alienation from God and self creates a state of dreamy illusion, reminiscent of a collective subconscious – an almost sacramental remembrance of primordial sin. (52)
The boundary between sin and punishment becomes blurred and sin itself acts as a merciless tyrant.
Disturbing concepts – the extrinsic punishment of a vengeful God and the notion of a penal and distributive justice – runs throughout the Old Testament and into the New Testament, extending to the doorstep of the Gospels and the parables of Jesus. (53)
Job approaches the threshold of a mystery to which Deutero-Isaiah and the Psalms gives greater depth, the mystery of the innocent Just One. Job’s refusal of unjust suffering still resonates in all human sufferings.
In our most elementary and natural awareness, suffering is a nonsense, a scandal at the heart of God’s creation; the humble heart revolts against it. It is an integral part of disorder, of sin, which sickens and enslaves all of humanity. Only by anticipating the mystery of redemption does it finally acquire sacramental, positive, pedagogical, and revealing value, as a sign of the divine love, crucified and victorious. Jesus Christ Himself becomes the living key to the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. He fulfils and gives meaning to the image of the suffering, poor man in Sheol. (53-54)
Far from being indifferent to this suffering, God is moved by it and takes up Satan’s challenge and
from the first moment of disobedience, when Adam and Eve discover they are naked and flee from the gaze of their Creator, God goes to search for them: “Adam, where are you?” (Gen 3:9). This call of God resonates beyond the boundaries of the primitive Eden; it reverberates throughout the entire history of Israel and of humanity. God goes to search for the lost sheep, and when He has found it, He, full of joy, brings it back on His shoulders to the sheep pen. Upon His return, He gathers friends and neighbours for rejoicing (Lk 15:4-7). Again, we perceive echoes of the heavenly feast.
However, the search for the lost human being is long and hard. The Orthodox Church, at Matins of Holy Saturday, in the wake of St Irenaeus states: “You descended to earth to find Adam, but You did not find him on earth, O Master, and You went to search for him in the Hades” (stanza 25). (55)
Central to our salvation is the identification of God and the human being which involves a double movement of conferring and receiving love. It is the mystery of a divine Love that humbles itself before the creature in order to uplift it to Him.
The entire history of humanity, and therefore of salvation, is a long descent of God into Hell, into the desert, into the barrenness of the human heart. This descent into the abyss befits the magnitude of the love of God. …
The church fathers speak of a threefold kenōsis of the Son of God: becoming human, becoming sin, and dying. These three modalities of descent through the redeeming Incarnation correspond to three places: Bethlehem, the Jordan and Golgotha. A condescending, progressive gift of total love pursues human degeneration to the end. …
The return of humanity to the house of the Father, the ascent after the condescension, will occur in reverse order: death will be vanquished by the death of Christ and its sting pulled out; sin will be destroyed in its very roots, in heart of man, by one man who had not known sin; and humanity will be reconciled, filled with the divine Spirit, by the One who recapitulates in Himself all humans. (57-58)
To be continued…