The God who suffers

The recent (2013) typhoon in the Phillipines, the tsunami disaster of 26 December 2004 and other similar catastrophic events provoke questions about "Why does God permit such suffering?" or "How can God exist, in the face of such evil?"
I am not sure that the early deaths of a lot of people in a flood of seawater or a terrible storm are any more or less evil that that of thousands of AIDS sufferers in Africa or just one person in a city road accident. But the suffering of those left behind to grieve demands a response.
The existence of evil is an enigma if we believe that an omnipotent and perfectly good personal being created the world. The problem is thi if God is omnipotent, God must be able to prevent evil. And if perfectly good, God must be willing to prevent evil. But if God is both able and willing to prevent evil, is this not logically inconsistent with the existence of evil? From our human perspective the existence of evil seems to be powerful evidence against the existence of a perfectly good and omnipotent God.
Standard arguments concerning this problem can be found in textbooks on the philosophy of religion. But they are little solace to people who are suffering. Why, we may ask, did God not so create the earth that things like the tsunami cannot happen? The best response I have heard, which is still not very satisfactory, is this. God’s act of creation was (and is) an act of love. If the creation originated in love, it also had to have freedom – all of creation is born in freedom, not only humans. Thus the earthquake and the tsumani are free to happen, even if God would prefer otherwise.
But, as I said, this doesn’t do much for the person who suffers in consequence. Can we talk helpfully but truthfully about God in the presence of suffering?”The "Why?" question demands not merely explanation but justification. Richard Holloway says that, "the fact of suffering and the mystery of human evil are probably the most powerful factors in undermining human belief". (Dancing on the edge: faith in a post-Christian age. London: Harper Collins, 1997.) Jürgen Moltmann once described the question, "Why do I suffer?" as the rock of atheism.
The idea I find most helpful is that of the "suffering God", found, for example in Jürgen Moltmann’s works, The Crucified God (ET 1993) and The Way of Jesus Christ (ET 1993). For Moltmann, the cross of Christ represents not merely the death of Jesus, but God’s identification with the suffering of the world. Similar ideas are also found in the work of liberation theologians. But to say that God suffers is to take a position on an ancient theological debate. It’s along discussion, which I have summarised in an essay.
Some contemporary theologians have made it possible, even respectably orthodox, to believe that God does indeed suffer with us and for us. James Cone, a ‘liberation theologian’ says that because God "was one with divinity and humanity, the pain of the cross was God suffering for and with us so that our humanity can be liberated for freedom in the divine struggle against oppression." (The God of the oppressed. 1975, p.139.)
Kazoh Kitamori insists that the pain of God is a theme that pervades the Bible, citing, for example, Jeremiah 31.20 and Isaiah 63.15, in which the word hamah connotes intense love and pain. (Theology of the pain of God, 1965). God’s agonizing over us, suffering with us and for us, is constantly reflected in the Bible (e.g. Zephaniah 3.17-18, Jeremiah 9.1,3). This does not seem to be a passionless God, incapable of sharing our delights and our pain. Does God suffer? Yes, I think so.
To say that God suffers with us in Jesus Christ does not say how is it logically possible that suffering could occur when God is omnipotent and perfectly good. Still less does it say why suffering occurs. But the "Why?" of human suffering echoes Jesus’ cry from the cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Even in our godforsakeness, Christ has "borne our infirmities" (Is.53.3-4). As Holloway says, the crucifixion "rescues Christianity from moral superficiality and naïve optimism, because it identifies God with suffering and links that suffering to human action" (p.76).
By sharing his life with the oppressed, Jesus showed that God is one who cares for those who suffer. The great question, "Why?" should be addressed to the structures of oppression. Liberation theology identifies oppressive structures as the cause of much evil in the world and presents the gospel as a radical critique of oppression and as God’s response in Jesus Christ. This applies even to the tsunaumi victims, as its known that people living in wealthy countries (e.g. Japan) are better protected against natural disaster and suffer less when it occurs.
But this is not an answer to the ultimate question of why God permits oppression and evil in the first place. In response to this ultimate form of the sufferer’s question, "Why?", I am inclined to respond that we simply don’t know.
However, as well as suffering with us in the death of Christ, God has obtained for us liberation in the resurrection of Christ. The God who accepts our suffering also desires our liberation. Indeed, it could be said to be insufficient that God simply accepts our suffering, for we look to be freed from it. "By raising Jesus from the dead", Thorwald Lorenzen says, "God infused history with a promise. … Believing that God will be faithful to his promises, believers stake their lives on that promise … and become instruments of life, justice and liberation." (For a discussion of the interpretation of the resurrection from the perspective of liberation theology, see T. Lorenzen. Resurrection and discipleship: interpretive models, Biblical reflections, theological consequences. 1995, p.105.)
We don’t have a helpful or even reasonable answer to the "why?" of suffering. But God offers solidarity with the sufferer and the oppressed. In the cross of Jesus Christ, God shares in our pain and suffering. In the resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has achieved liberation and new creation.
Where was God when the tsumani struck? With the dead, the injured and the heartbroken.