Does God Suffer?

Christ Suffered Once for All. Does He still Suffer?


We know that Christ is God for the same reasons we know that Mary is the Mother of God.  "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us."  John 1.  We know that Christ suffered on the cross and died for us.  We know that the human nature of Christ is God because the Human nature of Christ is hypostatically united to the Divine in one person. (See clarification below) The Church teaches that the Human Nature of Christ is God because of the union of two natures, so God suffered. But can we say that after His death Christ no longer suffers because He is in Heaven?  Can we say that since Mary is in Heaven and enjoys the Beatific Vision she does not suffer with Her sinful children. 


There is a logical dilemma here as well as an apparent theological contradiction.  God does not change and is not an effect but always the cause.  Does not suffering imply change or at least being effected by what He created?


Revelations in the past few hundred years implies that Christ still suffers because of our sins, maybe not physically, but at least mentally in His Sacred Heart.  The same applies to the Immaculate Heart of Mary as can be seen in the following private revelations of Christ and Mary.


St. Margaret Mary

'Behold this Heart, which has love men so much, that it has spared noting, even to exhaustion and consuming itself, in order to testify to them its love and in return I receive from the greater number nothing but ingratitude and by reason of their irreverence and sacrileges and by the coldness and contempt which they show me in this sacrament of love.  Btu I feel the most keenly is that it is hearts which are consecrated to me that treat me like this.'


'I feel this more,' He said to Margaret Mary, 'than all that I suffered during My Passion.'


The following words are the actual feelings of Christ as He waits for us in His Sacrament. Given to Sister Josefa Menendez in 1923.

“Poor pitiable sinners, do not turn away from Me ... Day and night I am on the watch for you in the tabernacle. I will not reproach you ... I will not cast your sins in your face ... But I will wash them in My Blood and in My Wounds. No need to be afraid ... COME TO ME ... If you knew how dearly I love you. And you, dear souls, why this coldness and indifference on your part? Do I not know that family care, household concerns, and the requirements of your position in life, make continual calls upon you? But cannot you spare a few minutes in which to come and prove your affection and your gratitude? Do not allow yourselves to be involved in useless and incessant cares, but SPARE A FEW MOMENTS TO VISIT AND RECEIVE THE PRISONER OF LOVE.

“And how often should I wait for this or that other soul to visit Me in the Blessed Sacrament and receive Me into his heart? How many nights should I spend longing for his coming? But he would let business or carelessness or anxiety for his health get the better of him ... and he would not come!”



The Angel of Fatima in 1916

Most Holy Trinity - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - I adore You profoundly. I offer You the most precious Body, Blood, Soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ, present in all the tabernacles of the world, in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges and indifference whereby He is offended. And through the infinite merits of His Most Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg of You the conversion of poor sinners.


The Christ Child to Lucia of Fatima in 1925

"Have pity on the heart of your Most Holy Mother, which is covered with thorns that ungrateful men drive into it every instant, while there is no one who does an act of reparation to withdraw them from Her."

Lucia saw the crown of thorns around the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Then Our Lady spoke to her, saying:

"Look, my daughter, at my Heart encircled with thorns, with which ungrateful men wound it every moment by their blasphemies and ingratitude. Give me consolation, you, at least; and announce for me that I promise to assist at the hour of death, with the graces necessary for salvation, all who on the first Saturday of five consecutive months, go to confession, receive Holy Communion, recite five decades of the Rosary, and keep me company for fifteen minutes meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary, WITH THE INTENTION OF MAKING REPARATION TO ME."

Apparent Contradiction


Now here is the dilemma.  Some priests and theologians say that these apparitions cannot be true because Christ and Mary are in Heaven and cannot suffer.  I have heard these arguments myself.   There is also an apparent theological contradiction in these messages. 


God does not change and God is not perfected or fulfilled by others. What we do cannot change God for better or worse. 




The things in this world do not exist by reason of what they are, and so they need a cause of their existence.  To say that God is the Creator is to say that he is the uncaused cause of everything else, the ultimate explanation for the existence of the contingent beings in this world. 


The things in this world do not exist by reason of what they are, but are caused to exist by others.  Those causes may, in turn, be caused by still others.  Moreover, every aspect of the material universe, including its matter and energy, is contingent, and thus needs causation.   Hence the uncaused cause of the existence of the material universe is the Creator.




The belief that God is Creator implies, secondly, that God is perfect in himself.  That is, God must have his complete perfection within himself.  If God’s perfection depended on others, then God would not be God. 


The effect must pre-exist in the cause, This is because the cause explains the effect.  God does not change (Immutable) and is not in time.  God is indeed immutable, and God is not dependent, for any perfection or fulfillment in Himself, on his creatures. 




That being true we must look into another truth.  God created out of free will and not out of necessity.  The book of Revelation teaches that God creates by his will: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” (Rev. 4:11)




If God is all knowing then He cannot learn anything new.  If He is simple then everything about Him is contained in Him now, in the past and in the future.  Therefore He does not learn in time, since He knows all past, present and future. 


Immense, Immeasurable, Everywhere Present.


To grasp the idea of God being everywhere at the same time and without time, look at God's three questions found in Job 38:31, 32. Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion?  Canst thou guide Arcturus with his sons?  Only in the 20th Century can we understand the grander of these questions.


Father of All


Scripture reveals that we should relate to God as to a Father.  Scripture is not telling us that God is not really our Father, but to act as if God were.  God is not Father in the same way and human fathers are, but we can say God is father in the sense that a father is the source and a mother is the method of creation.  If God were a father in the sense of being male and not female, we would have to assume there was a mother God also and there is not.  God is the ultimate source of creation and therefore the only metaphor we can relate to is "Father" He also treats us like a father does to his children. 


God is Love


Mary said at Lourdes, "I am the Immaculate Conception."   She did not say I am Immaculately Conceived.  In saying this She is saying that from all eternity God made Her in His Mind the perfect creation and that for all time in eternity She will remain Immaculate without any blemish.  Her entire being is Immaculate. 


In the same way God does not love, His entire being is love.  Love is the best metaphor of God that we have.  This transcends our understanding.   For the love we understand is never identical with the persons who love.  The love we understand is an act that inheres in the person who loves.  Love is an action and not a feeling so to say that God is love, rather than just that God does love, suggests that God's actions are the same as His being.  What he thinks or wills happens and He always thinks or wills love.   The love that we can understand is only a faint echo of the divine love. 


Does God Have Emotions?


If God is devoid of passions, we would have to rewrite the Bible. The Bible eloquently affirms that God can be wounded not in the sense of being changed but in the sense of His love rejected, which He knew would happen from all eternity.


The 'pain' of God reflects his Will to love the object of his wrath. God's anger is not a childish loss of temper nor is it a frustrated love turned sour or vindictive. Rather, it is an expression of pure love that does not allow Him to stand by idly in the face of unrighteousness. God's true nature is active love; wrath is God's "strange work," which opposes anything that stands between God and us. Wrath is God's love burning hot in the presence of sin, proof that He cares. But it does not change His being as it is eternal.


If God is denied suffering, then the Cross cannot be a genuine revelation of God.  One of the errors of the first four century heresies is that Jesus suffered in his humanity, not in his divinity; and they separated Jesus' humanity from his deity, thus in effect making each nature an independent person, as the Nestorian heresy does, thereby jeopardizing the unity of Christ. Consequently there is no real Incarnation.  In fact we cannot say that Christ sometimes acts in His humanity and sometimes acts in his divinity, but always in both.


Further, if God is denied suffering, the Cross is evacuated of Christ's divinity.  Consequently, we have no salvation through Him. Christ's death would be the death of just another human being, not the death of the Son of God. God is that sympathetic presence in the life of the believer. God himself, in Christ and through the Spirit, is the Christian's comfort in the face of evil and suffering. God does not give us all the answers we need. We could not understand them if he did. Instead, God gives us Himself, His loving presence - His suffering presence - for God experiences our sufferings on a much deeper level than we could ever imagine.


For this reason, we need to rethink how we approach the problem of evil and suffering. Instead of constantly regarding it from the human vantage point we should attempt to understand it from God's vantage point. When we do this we confront one of the most neglected truths concerning the problem of suffering, namely, the suffering of God.


If God does not grieve, then can he love at all?  Does God ever feel distressed? Can an unfeeling God love?  A theology that embraces the idea that God cannot suffer has to answer the question: Can God love?  


An almighty God who cannot suffer is poverty stricken because he cannot love or be involved. If God remains unmoved by whatever we do, there is really very little point in doing one thing rather than the other. If friendship means allowing oneself to be affected by another, then this unmoved, unfeeling deity can have no friends or be our friend.


Our Christian foreparents were right to speak of God as impassible if that means God is not emotionally unstable and cannot be manipulated by humans. But we are wrong to conclude from this that God has no passion.  C. S. Lewis makes a helpful distinction between "gift love" (agape) and "need love" (eros). God does not act out of need love--a love dominated by self-seeking desires. Rather, God acts out of gift love--a free, self-giving love--sharing His boundless goodness without thought of return. God's goodness means that He loves us with a completely unconditional love, involving himself with us even in our pain.


Does God Suffer?


God is "impassible" which can mean,  unable to feel, or calm, or invulnerable or all the above. But if it only means that God is invulnerable then God can have feelings without it changing His being. It is assumed that if God suffers, it would demonstrate God lacked something, and - accordingly this could not possibly be the case with God.


As creatures we possess mind, will, and emotions. When these three faculties are united in righteousness and love, we are fully human - fully alive. In light of this, it would be absurd to think that God possesses only mind and will.


God's genuine experience of emotion is explained in Scripture by Anthorpopathisms in a way we can grasp but God's actual emotions are far greater than we can imagine, but His emotions are certainly not any less.


God's ultimate revelation in the person of Christ indicates that God is a God who feels deeply. One of the predominant words regularly used to describe Jesus' emotional state is the word "compassion." Deep in his gut, Jesus experienced strong feelings of sympathy and tenderness toward suffering people. The climax of his ministry has been labeled by theologians as "The Passion" because of the intense suffering Christ experienced on behalf of others. Christ reveals a suffering God. Since Christ reveals the very Heart of God for us, we can speak, not simply of the passion of Christ, but of the passion of God. Christ's passion reveals the suffering love at the Heart of God.


To be sure, God does delight in his goodness and loves his creatures, but this cannot be interpreted as meaning that God is changed by, or different because of, his creatures.  If God feels emotions and Scripture shows that, and if God suffered the Passion, and Scripture shows that, and if God, the Father loves His Son, and logic shows that, then God suffers.  But if God is also impassible this must mean that for all eternity He suffers in His Love and this suffering was His burning Love and a eternal Love.


Can We Understand God?


Whatever we understand--which includes change, bodiliness, but also spiritual (non-physical) actions such as knowing and loving--must be denied of God.  That is, God does not change.  God is not bodily.  But also, God does not know in the sense of “know” that is true of us.  He does not love in the same sense of loving that we understand.  (This also means that God is not inert, is not ignorant, is not indifferent, and is not callous.  God is not sub-personal.  Rather, God is more than, or higher than, what we can understand.)


Thus even our concepts that properly apply to ourselves, understanding, willing and love, cannot be directly applied to God in the sense that they apply to ourselves.  Rather, such statements should be understood as being indirect or analogical. 


The Mystery of God


When we say that God is immutable (does not change) this does not mean that God is without different emotions.  It simply means that whatsoever emotions God has does not change His being, since they are always in His being and are eternally there since He sees and knows everything, past, present and future.


To say that God is impassible (invulnerable)  is not to say that God is indifferent.  Rather, in each case both contrary properties should be denied of the Creator.  God is greater than what we can understand, so we must deny of Him those attributes which imply imperfection.  But in doing so we must not impute to Him even worse imperfections.


God certainly knows and loves.  God certainly is love, but we do not apprehend any nature of knowledge or love held in common by us and God, and so we cannot infer from the characteristics of human knowledge or love to divine knowledge or love. 


Rather, the solution is to see that both extremes--viewing God as indifferent, or viewing God as changing or suffering (in his divine nature)--result from a single mistake, namely, presuming that we really must have a notion of what God is in Himself.  Once this presumption is consistently given up, then we can see that denying that God changes, or that God is modified or altered by us, in no way implies that God is indifferent, cool, or callous. 



Yes! God Suffers by Free Choice and Free Will


When considering the problem of evil and suffering, we must not simply speak of human suffering. We must also speak of divine suffering - God's passion - for us, with us, and in us. As we begin to grasp the breadth and depth of God's suffering we will come to find solace in the passionate love of God that embraces us all.


God's passion is demonstrated in his divine decision to create. God's suffering does not begin at the incarnation or at the cross, but at the opening moments of creation. God's choice to create is a choice to suffer - God's first movement of divine humiliation which finds its fullest expression in the incarnation and cross of Christ. For this reason, the Scriptures speak of


 "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Revelation 13:8; cf. Acts 2:23; 1 Peter 1:2).


Suffering is a consequence of God's love and manifests God's commitment to his creation. Prior to the act of creation God assumed the reality of divine suffering for the sake of the world.


God's free choice to create and to suffer as an expression of committed love is at the heart of the great difference between divine and human suffering. Unlike human suffering, which is necessary due to our own mortality, lack of completeness, or simply the consequence of our sin, God's suffering is completely an act of the divine will. God is wholly self-sufficient, lacking nothing. Before God created, in the eternal fellowship of Father, Son, and Spirit, God experienced complete bliss, joy, perfect communion, and love.


Evil not only results in human suffering but also in God's suffering. Isaiah 63:9 states,


"In all their afflictions, He [God] was afflicted."


Yes, when man suffers God suffers. When man suffers he suffers in time and for a time, but all of God's suffering are eternal since God is eternal.


The Two Hearts of Jesus and Mary


Christ's Sacred Heart is presented to us crowned with thorns and burning with love.  Mary's Immaculate Heart (at least at Fatima) is presented the same way and on the Miraculous Medal as pierced with a sword.  Thorns indicate suffering.  Scripture contains many descriptions of God which are clearly intended as metaphors, and these also are metaphors of Christ and Mary's suffering love.  This is a suffering love now, and not just when they were on earth.


But how can this be since they are in Heaven and Heaven is "perfect supernatural bliss, free of physical suffering, eternal life and eternal rest."  This bliss is composed of "seeing God face to face, knowledge, love and joy." (Dogma of Faith)


However, there is another thing we find in the Dogma of Faith and that is the Communion of Saints.  We learn that the angels, the saints in Heaven and the souls in Purgatory can and do pray for us.  We also learn that we can pray for the souls in Purgatory.  We see from revelation in Scripture (and since) that the angels and saints seem to know what is happening on earth.  Whether they see our sins or not, I do not know, but at least they see the state of our souls, and pray for us. 


If they now can love perfectly, how is it that they do not suffer with us insomuch as they see our sufferings and imperfections?   Does mental suffering out of perfect love take away perfect supernatural bliss and joy?  I do not know but what I think, I cannot explain.  What I think is that if we are the Mystical Body of Christ, Church suffering, Church Triumphant and Church Militant and we are one then we share somehow in everything that effects the body including suffering at least to the end of the world.   Does that take away from perfect supernatural bliss and joy?  I do not think so insofar as they know God, they know love, they know they will never suffer physically, they know they are saved forever, and they know that at the end of the world they will not even remember those lost forever.  For them also I ask, can they have perfect love without sharing in our suffering?  


This must be for Christ and Mary at least, since it is revealed.  Christ because He is eternal in everything Divine, and Mary because She is so united with the Trinity that She shares in God's love more completely than any other of God's creations.


I sit here in Fatima trying to contemplate the Immaculate Heart of Mary (united to the Sacred Heart of Jesus) so that I can do what Our Lady said to Lucia.  "You must stay longer to make known to the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart."  


The vision she had in Spain, mentioned above seems to be a key to this knowledge and this shows God and Mary suffering out of love for us.  It shows Christ's Passion re-presented in the Mass.  We know that we are present at the Cross during Mass and therefore the Angel of Fatima, complains of the outrages, sacrileges and indifference whereby He is offended at the Mass. Even to Margaret Mary Christ complains of the ingratitude and by reason of their irreverence and sacrileges and by the coldness and contempt which they show me in this sacrament of love.


And Christ said to Margaret Mary:


'I feel this more than all that I suffered during My Passion.'


It could be that what Christ is talking about now regarding Him is what happened at His Passion being that He saw all history at once but then that would be included in "during My Passion" but He is saying "more" than My Passion. 


Maybe I created more questions than I answered in this personal investigation into what seems to be contradictions, but it has made me think and worry more about offending God.  If I am wrong on this or that point, it has still brought me closer to the love of God than I had been before.  And let us hope that it gives all of us more reasons to fear sin and fear offending God and Mary.

Richard P. Salbato

Posted on the Feast of Mary's Assumption 2004


Comments about this Newsletter and my response:


This Correction to my newsletter is great and needs to be read:


I read over the essay by Richard Salbato on "Does God Suffer?" He has good Catholic instincts, but the essay itself is a bit diffuse. At times, he's not careful with his phrasing. For example, he writes: "We know that the human nature of Christ is also God...." Following the proper use of the communication of idioms, it is always best, as L. Ott notes, to avoid predicating attributes specific to one nature to the other nature. In the concrete, though, both divine and human attributes can be attributed to the Person of Christ who is both God and man. Thus, to say that the human nature of Christ (in the abstract) is God can be misleading since the human nature is created. However, since the human nature is united hypostatically to the divine Person of Christ, He is to be worshipped as God in both His divine and human natures. Thus, it is a certain theological thesis that Christ's sacred humanity can be adored with latria.

Does the God-man Christ continue to suffer in heaven? Pascal once wrote that "Jesus will be in agony until the end of the world," This is true in the sense that His Passion and death continue to be re-presented at every Mass and that He continues to suffer in His body, the Church. It is also true in that we call upon Christ to have mercy upon us (miserere nobis). This ongoing mercy or "misericordia" in its Latin root means to have "misery in the heart" for another (or others). So, if the "lex orandi" is the "lex credendi," we would need to acknowledge that the Lord still responds to our prayers with misericordia.

Since the hypostatic union will never cease in Christ, we must believe that all that pertains to a true human nature (without sin) continues to exist in Christ. In His human nature, Christ continues to have misericordia.

The whole issue of the impassibility of the divine nature needs to be put in balance with the passibility of the human nature. As Pope St. Leo I put it: "the one nature shines forth in miracles; the other succumbs to injuries."

These are just a few quick thoughts. It is, of course, a mystery, but the private revelations cited by Salbato are harmonious with the faith properly understood.

Faithfully in Christ,

Salbato's response.

I do not yet have permission to use the name of this person, but he is totally correct and in fact has given me the best answer to the question that I, myself, could not properly answer.  My great admiration for this answer which also gives me a better understanding of this mystery.