Gunter Rutenborn (1912-1976)
Following the horror of World War II the nation of Germany faced a tremendous burden of guilt. What went wrong with our nation?, they wondered. Who is to blame for these terrible things that Germany unleashed on the world: unprovoked aggression on weak and innocent neighbors, a world war, the slaughter of a whole generation of their young men who died as soldiers along with countless civilians, and the attempted extermination of the entire Jewish population of Europe? Who was to blame for this terrible agony brought to the whole world?
One interesting response to this question came out already in 1945 in the form of a play written by a Lutheran pastor, Gunter Rutenborn. The play was called The Sign of Jonah, and it begins with a group of refugees on stage, milling around and asking who is to blame? Several answers are spoken by people from the crowd.
Some said the obvious, that Hitler was to blame, who else? Others said, “No, it was the ammunition manufacturers who financed him.” Another said, “It was the apathy and blind obedience of all the German people that allowed it.” Someone else said it was the diplomats of other nations who, in their weakness, attempted to appease Hitler by letting him have this nation and then that nation, believing all his false promises that war could be avoided.
Suddenly a man comes out of the crowd and says, “I will tell you who is to blame for all this suffering– it is God, God who created this world of pain and allows these things to happen.” Soon the whole crowd is agreeing and saying with one voice, “God is to blame, God is to blame, God is to blame.”
God is then brought down to the stage and is put on trial for the crime of creating the world and all its suffering. To make a long story short, the trial is carried out and completed, and God is found guilty. The judge then pronounces this sentence: “The crime is so severe that this is going to be the worst of all sentences. I hereby sentence God to have to live on this earth that he created, and to suffer as a human being.” Three top angels are then given the task of carrying out the sentence.
The first angel then walks out on stage and says: “I am going to see to it that when God serves his sentence He finds out what it is like to be obscure and to be poor. He will be born in the middle of nowhere in a weak nation with a peasant girl for his mother. There will even be a suspicion of shame about his birth, and he will have to live as a Jew in a world that hates Jews. That will show him what it is like to suffer in this world.”
The second angel then comes on stage and says: “I am going to see to it that when God serves his sentence he finds out what it is like to fail and to suffer disappointment in what he does and from his friends. No one will understand what he is trying to do and everyone will let him down. Even his closest friends will betray and desert him. That will show him what it is like to suffer in this world.”
Then the third angel says: “I am going to see to it that God finds out what it is like to feel physical pain. I will see to it that he dies a slow and painful death with plenty of suffering before the end. That will show him what it is like to suffer in this world.”
With that, the stage lights go out and the play is over; and everyone is allowed to sit for a while in the darkness with the realization that God has already served that sentence.
God was not, of course, sentenced for any crime by some human court. But God did willingly and freely take on all that pain and suffering in order to forgive the sins committed by humanity against itself, those sins that marred God’s good creation, those sins that caused the needless suffering. No, God is not guilty, humankind is guilty, but already, God, in Christ, has taken upon himself the punishment that we deserved, and as Isaiah wrote, “by his punishment we are healed.” The play was written by a Lutheran minister, so he knew all of that, but he put the story of Christ’s passion in the context of that kind of play in order to speak to a generation of people that was asking those questions about guilt and suffering in a particular situation.
Jesus did, in truth, experience all that he was sentenced to in the play. He took our sins to the cross, and somehow, in God’s infinite love and wisdom, it is there on that cross that we receive the forgiveness of all our sins, and in his resurrection, we receive the promise of life everlasting, if we believe in Him. Believe in Him and you will be saved.
Job 13:3 — I desire to speak to the Almighty and to argue my case with God.
Isaiah 53:5 — He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.
I Peter 2:24 — “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”
A PRAYER FOR GOOD FRIDAY by William Barclay:
O God, our Father, we thank Thee this day that Thou so loved the world that Thou didst give Thine only Son for us and for all mankind. We give Thee thanks this day for Jesus Christ, our blessed Lord, and for His death upon the cross– that he loved us and gave himself for us, and that he came to seek and to save that which was lost. Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. Help us this day to remember, and never again to forget, the love of Him who laid down his life for us. Amen.