World Suffering

by J. Heinrich Arnold

If we look for the roots of suffering, we will find them in possessiveness and the spirit of mammon. This spirit is of Satan, who is a murderer from the beginning, as Jesus said. It brings darkness and death. Many who serve it try to hide behind marvelous ideals. But despite these ideals the fruits of this spirit are injustice and death, and these are the cause of the suffering of our time and of all times. If we look at world suffering honestly, we will see how closely it is connected with our own guilt and the guilt of all men today, and we will also recognize that since this suffering is all one, we are part of it and must suffer with all others who suffer.

There is so much pain on the earth! If we are filled with God's love, we will experience this pain ourselves; we will feel something of the need of children, the elderly, the mentally disturbed, the unwanted, and the starving. But if we see only the suffering of the world, our view is completely one-sided. For God's sake we must recognize and proclaim the fact that suffering is a fruit of the great sin and guilt of the world, a fruit of man's rebellion against God.

Only God knows how much of the world's need is sin and how much of it is suffering. It has been said that if one were to put the evil of the world on one side of a scale and its suffering on the other, the scale would balance. I do not know if this is true, but it is quite clear that sin and suffering go together. War, for example, is sin, but it also involves enormous suffering. God sees both the sin and the suffering.

We believe in God's indescribable longing to save humankind not only from its need but also from its sin. It is irreverent to talk of world need without seeing the hurt done to God by world sin, which is also our sin.

If it were not for God's longing to seek men through Jesus, there would be nothing but inner and physical death on earth. Jesus is the Lamb of God who carries the sins of the world. He is the answer - the only answer to all sin and need.

When we see the world's churches as they are today, where money has so much power and there is so little compassion for the poor, we should feel challenged to reach out more. We know that the first believers in the church at Rome fed their own poor and the poor of the whole city. They lived in the first love of Jesus, and that is where we are found wanting. The hour demands that we return to this first love.

From a letter: In Matthew 25 Jesus speaks of those who are hungry, thirsty, naked, and in prison. We, too, are concerned about these people, about the hunger and want of the world. But what should we do? We live too well. We should eat less and do with less, so as to share with the poor. The early Christians fasted for one or two days a week so as to give food to the hungry. We are not doing enough by sharing just among our own brothers and sisters. We should appoint at least one brother from each of our communities to seek out people in need, to bring them food and clothing, and to see that they have adequate heating, and so on.

From a letter: You say that the poor have no longing for God, that they are completely dull and indifferent, that you yourself have spent time in a boarding house for tramps, and that they wanted nothing else than to get to the top themselves, to oppress others, and so on. You even say that there is no point in trying to help such people - they want nothing else anyway.

Dear brother, this is not the spirit of the love of Jesus. It is true that many people are inwardly dull, but this apathy is an expression of their need. It is a sign - probably the worst sign - of how strongly Satan, the enemy of Jesus and the murderer from the beginning, still rules over people. Don't you realize how deeply it must grieve Jesus when we talk about the need of our fellowmen in such a cold and superior way?

Do you think Jesus had this attitude? Do you believe he would have died for us if he had felt this way? We cannot talk like this about the poor and oppressed - no, we are called to love our fellowmen, and especially those who are so badly off that they can no longer see the way ahead.

From a letter: To offer a night's lodging to a homeless person has always been a fundamental principle of the Bruderhof. The police have sometimes brought us homeless people, even families with children, in the middle of the night, and we have always found a way of giving them a place to sleep.

Under Hitler's regime the German secret police forbade the Bruderhof to take in any guests. But we informed them that we would never refuse a night's lodging to anyone, even if the police disapproved of it; we would never close the door to a homeless person.

We would lose our whole witness if we were not even willing to give a night's lodging to a person in need. But the main thing is love. Paul says that even if we give all our possessions to the poor but have no love, it will be of no use.

In the first years of the Bruderhof, whenever an unwed mother came to our house in search of a place to stay, my father would invite her for at least two or three nights. Several of these women had been thrown out of their homes, so they stayed on, and some had their babies while with us. We also had drunkards, thieves, and people who were wanted by the police. Once a murderer who had served more than twenty years in prison lived with us. My parents were not worried about the possible repercussions of exposing us children to such situations. But we were never exposed to sexual impurity. If there was indecent behavior on the part of those we took in, my father did not tolerate it.

None of these people joined us, and I don't think any of them had any interest in us as a church; they were just homeless. But my father never refused any of them a roof. The Bible says that by giving shelter to strangers, many have entertained angels without knowing it.

In these days of violent upheaval in our country, the extreme right is very active.[written June 13, 1964] At the same time, others with high ideals who speak out for righteousness and justice among men and nations are also very active. We cannot stand aside. If people go to prison and give their lives for their beliefs, we can have only the deepest respect and reverence for it. But we should also long and strive for a righteousness deeper than one based on the rights of men.

I am concerned about an incident that has occurred locally, and I don't know how we should respond. A man from our neighborhood was beaten - struck over the head twice - because he removed anti-Semitic posters that had been displayed publicly. How should we protest such violence, and how should we witness to love and justice? On the one hand, there is a danger of getting too involved in politics; it isn't our task. On the other hand, we cannot be silent about injustice in our own neighborhood; we cannot simply be complacent and say that it isn't our business. Having lived in Germany in the 1930s, I know what it means when people are silent in such matters. Hitler was able to take over Germany only because so many people did not dare to protest or get involved.

The world is heading in a serious direction; the arms race has men preparing for mass murder such as the world has never seen. In Vietnam people are being tortured, wounded, and killed daily.[written August 22, 1965] What is our responsibility? We must ask ourselves this question quite openly. We have done very little. We have joined the marches against racial injustice in the South, and we have spoken out against the war in Vietnam. We have visited our senators and representatives to tell them of our concern, but all this is very little.

We know that the past, the present, and the future lie in God's hands, and if we give ourselves to God we must be ready to suffer and even die. Men like Michael Schwerner [Civil rights activist murdered in Mississippi in 1964.] died for their belief that love among men must be strengthened. We, too, should be ready to suffer and to die if God asks it of us.

Our hearts are small - I know it of myself - but we will find an answer to the question of our responsibility if we let ourselves be moved by God. Any other way will fail. If God's love moves our hearts, our lives will take on new depths and heights, and he will lead us to take the right action. But we must ask him to move our hearts today, tomorrow, and every day.

To be complacent in the face of injustice is a terrible sin, and therefore we have great respect for the Civil Rights Movement. Many people in it are making sacrifices for righteousness, and some have even sacrificed their lives. But the fight for civil rights itself will not bring about the kingdom of God, and we must not lose sight of this, in spite of our respect for those who sacrifice everything for it. Something much greater must come into being, something we ourselves cannot make: the powerful atmosphere of the spirit of Jesus, which must penetrate into all the world.

As injustice continues to increase, let us hold on to our hope in the kingdom of God and seek to live according to it, to show the world a new righteousness that includes love even to the enemy. This is the answer to the great need of our time in the world at large, but especially on the political and racial scene here in America.

Daniel and all the other prophets - as well as John in his Book of Revelation - speak of the "last days" before the kingdom of God comes, when humankind will have to face heavy judgment. The famines and pestilences of every century, the persecution of our Anabaptist forefathers and countless other small groups, the Thirty Years' War, and the wiping out of the American Indians are all examples of enormous suffering that already fulfill many prophecies of judgment. So are the First and Second World Wars, which held perhaps the greatest horrors humankind has ever seen. The last days have already begun.

There is such endless need on earth - much more than we can ever know. Some of it is economic need, and some of it is social need, but in a deeper way it is all inner need brought into men's lives by the dark powers of injustice, murder, and unfaithfulness. Some of us used to believe that through political or social measures radical changes could take place in our society - changes that would answer this need. But as we have seen again and again, the leaders of today's world always get caught in their own lies and webs of dishonesty; the cold dollar rules, and impurity and unfaithfulness are everywhere.

We know that our few Bruderhof communities will not change the world. But Christ will, and we want to give ourselves voluntarily to him. He demands our whole personality and our whole life. He came to save the world, and we believe that he, not any human leader, will one day govern the earth. For him we live and give our utmost, and for him we are willing to die.