Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sölle reconfigures traditional understandings of the Christian life (imitatio christi) and attributes of God and Jesus Christ. While Christians have been admonished to interpret their suffering as a kind of vindication of the power of God through their very powerlessness or to adopt a universal willingness to suffer as central to their Christian identity, Sölle identifies such understandings as forms of masochism. To posit a kind of righteousness behind the reality of suffering, whether by way of a God who demands the sacrifice of Isaac or uses Job as an object lesson, or by way of a Christ who stoically suffers as the necessary sacrifice or scapegoat for sin, is to move in the direction of theological sadism.

In this respect Sölle foreshadows the feminist theologians and ethicists who in the 1980’s and beyond systematically began to analyze and critique traditional understandings of Christian atonement. For Sölle, the only salvation available to anyone in the context of suffering is to continue loving, or at least to desire to go on loving, even if only with the smallest part of oneself. Atonement thus is redefined. Only faith in God provides the necessary capacity to continue to affirm life in the dark night of the cross. Golgotha is the moment in which Jesus spiritually comes of age, as he must undertake the task of doing without his father. The story of Jesus’ Passion reveals a kind of Christianity that moves past religion understood as a defense mechanism against disappointment. God’s suffering with and in Jesus on the cross reveals the pain of God’s suffering wherever creation is wounded and intensifies the cry for human hands of healing and action.The only choice we have is between the absurd cross of meaninglessness and the cross of Christ, the death we accept apathetically as a natural end and the death we suffer as a passion.

The strong tie Sölle develops in this work between Christian mysticism and social action is further developed in her final book, Mystik und Widerstand (1977; The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance, 2001).