Figure of the crucified Jesus with "INRI" inscription © KYNA STUDIO (shutterstock)
Good Friday is a day of silence in Christianity. After his suffering Jesus is resurrected. Even in secular life there is suffering, in very different forms. But hope can also follow here.
The death and resurrection of Jesus are central to the Christian faith. The resurrection stands for hope, but it is directly linked to pain and suffering, because Jesus died a torturous death. Christians remember this on Good Friday. A few thoughts on suffering and hope, then and now, in life and in art:
Death on the cross was a particularly cruel and painful method of torture, which often prolonged the agony of the crucified for days. Jesus had previously been scourged. His death and suffering lasted for hours and was not shielded, but a public event: according to the Gospel of Luke, people had flocked to see him. Some mocked and ridiculed him. Above Jesus on the cross was a plaque with the words "This is the King of the Jews". Luke also says that "all his acquaintances", including the women, stood at some distance from the cross and "witnessed everything".
One can imagine the pain Jesus' followers felt in the face of his death and circumstances. Paintings of Jesus' crucifixion and Stations of the Cross, respectively, show suffering primarily on the part of women: Depicted, for example, are humility, hands folded in prayer, wringing hands, faces filled with pain, desperate clutches of the cross, or even collapses. This pain also appears in various forms in the Pieta: Mary, the mother of God, holds her dead son on her lap. Even in Michelangelo's famous sculpture in St. Peter's Basilica, despite all its marble smoothness and aesthetics, grief is visible.
Torture continues today in many countries: in wars and conflicts, but also in state prisons. According to Amnesty International, prisoners in 141 countries were tortured or abused in 2017 – through sleep deprivation, beatings, electric shocks, sexual abuse and other methods that also aim to damage the psyche. Torture is forbidden. In 1984, the UN Convention against Torture made this prohibition binding under international law; it came into force in 1987. In February 2021, the Koblenz Higher Regional Court sentenced a Syrian man to four and a half years in prison for aiding and abetting crimes against humanity in a torture trial.
Suffering is also caused by illness. Some, such as cancer, can be fatal; chronic diseases can severely affect people for a lifetime. Some people suffer so much that they want to end their lives. The debate on euthanasia continues. In the Corona pandemic, too, there is much talk of suffering, for example when those affected lie in intensive care units for weeks, have to be ventilated and may have to deal with late effects for a long time afterwards. Several tens of thousands of people have died from or with the virus. In some cases, relatives could not say goodbye to the dead in person because of the restrictions on contact.
Those who mourn a person and perhaps have not even been able to say goodbye to him, suffer. That can extend to trauma. Other serious events can also throw people off track: Loss, abuse, neglect, poverty, loneliness, bullying. It happens that some then no longer see a way out: in 2019, according to the Federal Statistical Office, died in Germany 9.041 people by suicide, more men than women.
The good news is that there is help available for suffering people in the secular world: Palliative care, therapies, counseling services, and last but not least, friends and family. In the context of the church, pastors help. The Psalms in the Old Testament do indeed say: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me; art far from my cry, from the words of my lamentation". At the same time, it is about certainty and trust there. Death and suffering are followed by resurrection, which stands for unbreakable hope. It is no accident that the Christ on the cross in the Basilica of St. Therese of Lisieux raises his arms – free, not crucified, almost as if dancing.