Cliff's Edge – Nietzsche and the Cross
We talk about the sum total of human suffering. But human suffering isn’t totaled.
However brilliant, Frederick Nietzsche was also insane. And even if not always easy to know which Nietzsche (the genius or the mad man) you’re reading in any given text, he remains (though born in 1844, a week before the Great Disappointment) one of the world’s most influential philosophers.
Nietzsche hated Christianity, especially its ethics, a “slave morality” he called it. Because, he believed, the West was discarding the Christian religion, it needed to dump the morals that came with it. Though Nietzsche was OK with Jesus Himself, he did write that had Jesus not died so young He probably would have repudiated His own teachings. (Sounds like the mad man here.)
Amid his ravings, Nietzsche wrote something that, ironically enough, has been greatly faith-affirming for me. In Thus Spake Zarathustra he had one line that has done more than most anything else I have ever read to help me deal with the question that bedevils all believers: why so much suffering in a world created by an all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful God?
“In the end, one experiences only oneself.”
Yes, our brains numb at the numbers: 26 in a church shooting; 22,500 in the Japanese tsunami; 6,000,000 Jews in the Holocaust. Yet whether crammed on top of each other in a Nazi gas chamber, or carried off alone and isolated in the cold water of the northern Pacific, we experience only our own pain, our own suffering, not a speck more than our own and, never, another’s. You can no more feel other people’s pain than you can secrete a drop of their sweat.
We talk about the sum total of human suffering. But human suffering isn’t totaled. All the world’s pain never exceeded what any individual, no matter how horrifically, ever endured because, as Nietzsche said, “In the end, one experiences only oneself.”
However, Isaiah 53:4, referring to Jesus on the cross, says: “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows” (KJV). Whose griefs? Whose sorrows? Christ’s death was for everyone, the whole world, which means that everyone’s griefs, everyone’s sorrows, were there. The grief and sorrow that we experience individually fell on Him, corporately. Read the text: “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows.” God, our God, in Christ has suffered from sin worse than any of us could ever suffer ourselves.
Look, the Creator had no choice. If He wanted beings who could love, He had to make them free. And, as all-knowing, He knew what we would do with our freedom. But, as all-loving too, He will bring the Great Controversy between good and evil and all suffering in it to a glorious end.
Until then—what? God is in the bliss of heaven, enjoying the worship of cherubim and seraphim, while the battle between light and darkness is being hammered out among us wretched schnooks here? Not quite. That’s because, though “in the end, one experiences only oneself,” 2,000 years ago our Creator, on the cross, “bore our griefs and carried our sorrows.”
Clifford Goldstein is editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide. His latest book, Baptizing the Devil: Evolution and the Seduction of Christianity, has recently been released by Pacific Press.