Sharing the suffering of others

Reading: 2 Corinthians 12

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

This is my second Easter here. When people suggest in their letters . . . that I’m "suffering" here, I reject the thought. It seems to me a profanation. These things mustn’t be dramatised. I doubt very much whether I’m "suffering" any more than you, or most people, are suffering today. Of course, a great deal here is horrible, but where isn’t it? . . . No, suffering must be something quite different, and have a quite different dimension, from what I’ve so far experienced.

Letter to Eberhard Bethge from Tegel prison, 9 March 1944


It must be clear to us that most people learn only through personal experience occurring to their own bodies.

First, this explains why most people are remarkably incapable of any sort of preventative action. We keep thinking that we ourselves will be spared when disaster strikes – until it is too late.

Second, it explains our insensitivity to the suffering of others; solidarity with suffering arises in proportion to our own increasing fear of imminent doom.

[As Christians, however,] we are not responsible for all the injustice and suffering in the world, nor do we wish to judge the whole world. [So] our lack of imagination, sensitivity, and inner readiness is balanced by a kind of unwavering calmness, an undisturbed ability to work, and a great capacity for suffering.

"After Ten Years," 1942