The Sorrow of God

This week I start into my dissertation writing phase. Yesterday, I compiled the various papers I’ve written on related subjects, copying relevant sections and putting them into some kind of shape, a shape that will become the second chapter after a little bit of work this next week. My first chapter is an introduction, pointing towards the themes and contexts of my focus. It’s also the most important for me right now, because if I can get into writing that, I can turn my mind back to the themes and issues that have peppered my last three years, but haven’t really been present since last Spring. Having spent the summer studying Latin and the Fall studying for comprehensive exams, it takes a bit of time to recover not only the topics but the very mood of what stands before me now. One way that I like to do that is begin musing, not writing in a pure academic fashion but stretching my mind in prose, reading and writing more lyrically, sparking the cool embers of once burning thoughts.

I also like to choose an anchor for what I write, a source that’s not directly academic but which continues to provide a more lyrically anchor, pushing me back into the mystical priorities, back into what matters for lived life.

My dissertation will be focusing on an element of Moltmann’s theology, but will not be as much of a summary of his thought as a pushing it further. Using his writing to pull out themes and lay the groundwork for continued exploration. And it was Moltmann who provided what might be a key lyrical anchor for my work this year. Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy, known as “Woodbine Willie,” was a British chaplain in World War One. “I was deeply impressed by him,” Moltmann says, “because he was a chaplain in the trenches, not in the gazebos. Part of his poem on the sorrow of God, the hardest part is the heart of God. Therefore he developed an understanding of the suffering of God, because God loves people who contradict God, and kill themselves, and he understood how God must feel in World War I.”

Here’s Studdert Kennedy’s poem “The Sorrow of God”. It’s too long to embed at the beginning of my dissertation, so I’m posting it here. Using Ben Witherington’s American English adapted version. For those of us who aren’t soldiers in the trenches of France, which is all of us now, this poem still has meaning, for what they experienced physically, so many of us experience emotionally, or socially, or spiritually, often with physical implications. We know what is like to be in the muck and the mire, trapped on both sides, seeing friends and relatives and neighbors falling by the wayside, sparking us to question life, to question God who is supposedly in charge of such life.

And yet, in the midst of this, there is discovered true liberation, a liberation that breaks us and beats us, but also restores us, and even restores humanity itself, in the light of God’s participation and calling and universal work.

The Sorrow of God

“Yes I used to believe in Jesus Christ
And I used to go to church.
But since I left home and came to France,
I’ve been clean knocked off my perch.
For it seemed alright at home it did,
To believe in a God above
And in Jesus Christ his only Son
What died on the cross through Love.

When I went for a walk of a Sunday morn
On a nice fine day in the spring
I could see the proof of the living God
In every living thing.
For how could the grass and the trees grow up,
All alone of their bloomin’ selves?
Ye might as well believe in fairy tales,
And think they were made by elves.

So I thought that that long haired atheist
Was nothing but a silly sod
For how did he account for my Brussel sprouts,
If he didn’t believe in God?

But it ain’t the same out here, you know
It’s as different as chalk and cheese,
For half of its blood and the other half mud,
And I’m darned if I really see
How the God who has made such a cruel cruel world
Can have love in his heart for men,
And be deaf to the cries of the men as dies
And never comes home again.

Just look at that little boy corporal there,
Such a fine upstanding lad,
With a will of his own, and a way of his own
And a smile of his own, he had.
An hour ago he was bustin’ with life
With his actin’ and foolin’ and fun;
He was simply the life of us all, he was
Now look what the blighters have done.
Look at him lying there all of a heap
With the blood soaking over his head
Like a beautiful picture spoiled by a fool,
A bundle of nothing– dead…

And the lovin’ God he looks down on it all,
On the blood, and the mud, and the smell,
Oh God if its true how I pity you
For you must be livin’ in hell.
You must be livin’ in hell all day,
And livin’ in hell all night.
I’d rather be dead with a hole in my dead
I would by a darn long sight,
Than be livin’ with you on your heavenly throne,
Looking down on yon bloody heap,
That was once a boy full of life and joy,
And hearin’ his mother weep.

The sorrows of God must be hard to bear,
If he really has love in his heart.
And the hardest part in the world to play
Must surely be God’s part.
And I wonder if that’s what it really means,
That figure who hangs on the cross.
I remember I saw one the other day
As I stood with the captain’s hoss.

I remembers, I thinks, thinks I to myself
Its a long time since he died,
Yet the world don’t seem much better to-day
Then when he was crucified.

It’s always the same, as it seems to me,
The weakest must go to the wall,
And whether it’s right, or whether it’s wrong
Doesn’t seem to matter at all.
The better you are and the harder it is,
The harder you have to fight,
It’s a cruel hard world for any bloke
Who does the thing which is right.
And that’s how he came to be crucified,
For that’s what he tried to do.
He was always a-tryin’ to do his best
For the likes of me and you.

Well what if he came to the earth today
Came walking about in this trench
How his heart would bleed for the sights he’d see
In the mud and the blood and the stench.
And I guess it would finish him up for good
When he came to this old sap end,
And he saw that bundle of nothing there,
For he wept at the grave of a friend.

And they say He was just the Image of God
I wonder if God sheds tears.
I wonder if God can be sorrowing still,
And has been all these years.
I wonder if that’s what it really means,
Not only that he once died,
Not only that he came once to earth
And wept and was crucified?
Not just that he suffered once for all
To save us from our sins
And then went up to his throne on high
To wait until his heaven begins.

But what if he came to earth to show
By the paths of the pain he trod,
The blistering flame of eternal shame
That burns in the heart of God?…

But why don’t you bust this show to bits
And force us to do your will?
Why ever should God be suffering so,
And man be sinning still?
Why don’t you make your voice ring out,
And drown these cursed guns?
Why don’t you stand with an outstretched hand
Out there betwixt us and the Huns?
Why don’t you force us to end this war
And fix up a lasting peace?
Why don’t you will that the world be still
And wars for ever cease?
That’s what I’d do, if I were you,
And I had a lot of sons
Who squabbled and fought and spoiled their home,
Same as us boys and the Huns.

And yet I remember a lad of mine,
He’s fighting now on the sea.
And he was a thorn in his mother’s side
And the plague of my life to me.
Lord how I used to switch that lad
Until he fairly yelped with pain
But fast as I thrashed one devil out
Another popped in again.

And at last when he grew up a strapping lad
He ups and says to me
‘My will is my own, and my life is my own,
And I’m goin’ Dad to sea.’
And he went, for I hadn’t broken his will,
Though God knows how I tried,
And he never set eyes on my face again
Until the day his mother dies.

Well maybe that’s how it is with God,
His sons have got to be free.
Their wills are their own, their lives are their own,
And that is how it has to be.
So the Father God goes sorrowing still
For his world which has gone to sea
But he runs up a light on Calvary’s height
That beckons to you and to me.
The beacon light of the sorrow of God
Has been shinin’ down the years,
Flashin’ its light through the darkest night
Of our human blood and tears.

There’s a sight of things which I thought were strange,
As I am just beginnin’ to see.
‘Inasmuch as you did it unto one of these,
You did it unto Me’

So it isn’t just only the crown of thorns
What has pierced and torn God’s head
He knows the feel of the bullet too,
And he’s had his touch of the lead.
And he’s standin’ with me in this here sap,
And the corporal stands with Him,
And the eyes of the laddie is shinin’ bright
But the eyes of the Christ burn dim.

Oh laddie I thought as ye’d done for me
And broken my heart with your pain.
I thought ye’d taught me God was dead,
But ye’ve brought Him to life again.
And ye’ve taught me more of what God is
Than ever I thought to know,
For I never thought he could come so close,
Or that I could love Him so.

For the voice of the Lord, as I hear it now
Is the voice of my pals that bled,
And the call of my country’s God to me
Is the call of my country’s dead.

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