I think I am learning how feeling deeply in suffering is such a positive thing. And I think the following will help to explain it and its limits. This seems so obvious now that I’ve stumbled on it.
Here’s how my insight developed. I watched these videos on Hosea, breathtakingly painful and beautiful: Hosea, A Love Story
And as I was explaining Hosea to my class I asked the question, “Why does God do this strange thing? Why does he have Hosea marry Gomer and go through this exercise?” The answer seems to be because God was Hosea to empathize with himself, that is, to feel along with God, to love and to suffer like he does for his people. This is a stunning thought to me. God took Hosea through this ordeal to set him up to be a spokesperson, an advocate to represent God for his people, to communicate the quality of God’s experience of their sin.
At any rate, this made me think about a possible topic for theological studies, theological empathy or better, divine empathy. And lo and behold, it already exists: Edward Farley’s Divine Empathy
Here is a quote from his chapter heading:
“For I feel it, I feel it—infinite love is suffering too—yea, in the fulness of knowledge it suffers, it yearns, it mourns; and that is a blind self-seeking which waits to be freed from the sorrow wherewith the whole creation groaneth and travaileth. Surely it is not true blessedness to be free from sorrow, while there is sorrow and sin in the world; sorrow is then a part of love, and love does not seek to throw it off.
George Eliot, Adam Bede
So, suffering via empathy is a form of love. But love also is hopeful for the sufferer, giving limits to empathy. One cannot both wallow and help. To love is to suffer with, but also to seek healing and restoration for.