Wednesday, September 19, 2007

'The Sorrow of God'-- G. Studdert-Kennedy

Kennedy was a chaplain in WWI for the British and saw the worst of human evil in the Maginot line. In this poem, done in Cockney dialect ( I have Americanized it a bit for the sake of intelligibility. It can be found in his wonderful long out of print book 'The Unutterable Beauty' pp. 131-36) Kennedy assumes the posture of a soldier whose faith has been badly shaken by seeing a young corporal being blown to bits in the trenches. Like Job, he begins to rant against God, until suddenly an insight breaks through through the pondering of the cross. In many ways this poem is especially appropriate in view of the mess we are in in Iraq just now, and all the heartache it is causing various American families.

"Yes I used to believe in Jesus Christ
And I used to go to church.
But since I left home and came to France,
I've been clean knocked off my perch.
For it seemed alright at home it did,
To believe in a God above
And in Jesus Christ his only Son
What died on the cross through Love.

When I went for a walk of a Sunday morn
On a nice fine day in the spring
I could see the proof of the living God
In every living thing.
For how could the grass and the trees grow up,
All alone of their bloomin' selves?
Ye might as well believe in fairy tales,
And think they were made by elves.

So I thought that that long haired atheist
Was nothing but a silly sod
For how did he account for my Brussel sprouts,
If he didn't believe in God?

But it ain't the same out here, you know
It's as different as chalk and cheese,
For half of its blood and the other half mud,
And I'm darned if I really see
How the God who has made such a cruel cruel world
Can have love in his heart for men,
And be deaf to the cries of the men as dies
And never comes home again.

Just look at that little boy corporal there,
Such a fine upstanding lad,
With a will of his own, and a way of his own
And a smile of his own, he had.
An hour ago he was bustin' with life
With his actin' and foolin' and fun;
He was simply the life of us all, he was
Now look what the blighters have done.
Look at him lying there all of a heap
With the blood soaking over his head
Like a beautiful picture spoiled by a fool,
A bundle of nothing-- dead...

And the lovin' God he looks down on it all,
On the blood, and the mud, and the smell,
Oh God if its true how I pity you
For you must be livin' in hell.
You must be livin' in hell all day,
And livin' in hell all night.
I'd rather be dead with a hole in my dead
I would by a darn long sight,
Than be livin' with you on your heavenly throne,
Looking down on yon bloody heap,
That was once a boy full of life and joy,
And hearin' his mother weep.

The sorrows of God must be hard to bear,
If he really has love in his heart.
And the hardest part in the world to play
Must surely be God's part.
And I wonder if that's what it really means,
That figure who hangs on the cross.
I remember I saw one the other day
As I stood with the captain's hoss.

I remembers, I thinks, thinks I to myself
Its a long time since he died,
Yet the world don't seem much better to-day
Then when he was crucified.

It's always the same, as it seems to me,
The weakest must go to the wall,
And whether it's right, or whether it's wrong
Doesn't seem to matter at all.
The better you are and the harder it is,
The harder you have to fight,
It's a cruel hard world for any bloke
Who does the thing which is right.
And that's how he came to be crucified,
For that's what he tried to do.
He was always a-tryin' to do his best
For the likes of me and you.

Well what if he came to the earth today
Came walking about in this trench
How his heart would bleed for the sights he'd see
In the mud and the blood and the stench.
And I guess it would finish him up for good
When he came to this old sap end,
And he saw that bundle of nothing there,
For he wept at the grave of a friend.

And they say He was just the Image of God
I wonder if God sheds tears.
I wonder if God can be sorrowing still,
And has been all these years.
I wonder if that's what it really means,
Not only that he once died,
Not only that he came once to earth
And wept and was crucified?
Not just that he suffered once for all
To save us from our sins
And then went up to his throne on high
To wait until his heaven begins.

But what if he came to earth to show
By the paths of the pain he trod,
The blistering flame of eternal shame
That burns in the heart of God?...

But why don't you bust this show to bits
And force us to do your will?
Why ever should God be suffering so,
And man be sinning still?
Why don't you make your voice ring out,
And drown these cursed guns?
Why don't you stand with an outstretched hand
Out there betwixt us and the Huns?
Why don't you force us to end this war
And fix up a lasting peace?
Why don't you will that the world be still
And wars for ever cease?
That's what I'd do, if I were you,
And I had a lot of sons
Who squabbled and fought and spoiled their home,
Same as us boys and the Huns.

And yet I remember a lad of mine,
He's fighting now on the sea.
And he was a thorn in his mother's side
And the plague of my life to me.
Lord how I used to switch that lad
Until he fairly yelped with pain
But fast as I thrashed one devil out
Another popped in again.

And at last when he grew up a strapping lad
He ups and says to me
'My will is my own, and my life is my own,
And I'm goin' Dad to sea.'
And he went, for I hadn't broken his will,
Though God knows how I tried,
And he never set eyes on my face again
Until the day his mother dies.

Well maybe that's how it is with God,
His sons have got to be free.
Their wills are their own, their lives are their own,
And that is how it has to be.
So the Father God goes sorrowing still
For his world which has gone to sea
But he runs up a light on Calvary's height
That beckons to you and to me.
The beacon light of the sorrow of God
Has been shinin' down the years,
Flashin' its light through the darkest night
Of our human blood and tears.

There's a sight of things which I thought were strange,
As I am just beginnin' to see.
'Inasmuch as you did it unto one of these,
You did it unto Me'

So it isn't just only the crown of thorns
What has pierced and torn God's head
He knows the feel of the bullet too,
And he's had his touch of the lead.
And he's standin' with me in this here sap,
And the corporal stands with Him,
And the eyes of the laddie is shinin' bright
But the eyes of the Christ burn dim.

Oh laddie I thought as ye'd done for me
And broken my heart with your pain.
I thought ye'd taught me God was dead,
But ye've brought Him to life again.
And ye've taught me more of what God is
Than ever I thought to know,
For I never thought he could come so close,
Or that I could love Him so.

For the voice of the Lord, as I hear it now
Is the voice of my pals that bled,
And the call of my country's God to me
Is the call of my country's dead.

And Jesus said to Saul--- 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?'


Peter Kirk said...

Thanks for this.

I will comment only that it is a shame that the poem is spoiled in the last two lines by bringing in nationalism. It is not surprising of course in the original context in which it was written. But God is not the God of just one country, and doesn't care about just one country's dead. Let's rewrite the last two lines as follows:

And the call of this world's God to me
Is the call of this world's dead.

Ben Witherington said...

I am with you Peter, but I was just trying to be faithful to the original.


Unknown said...

God is Immanuel

CP said...

Powerful, powerful writing.
Lets not spoil the whole poem by nitpicking the last two lines. Americans are known for being one of the most Nationalistic Countries on the Globe so lest not be too harsh.
PS if those last two lines 'spoiled' it for you, dare i say maybe you missed the whole point of poem.

The Mr. said...

Thank you so much for pointing out this poem Ben. I hope you don't mind but I have cross-linked you on my blog, as will as re-quoting the poem.

Ben Witherington said...

That's fine and dandy Michael.



wnpaul said...

Would it be very difficult to post the original cockney version as well?


Wolf Paul

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Wolf:

Well yes it would, I type with two fingers. In any case the only difference is contracted words, and elliptical beginnings of words (e.g. 'ole instead of hole). There is no difference in content.


Rodney Reeves said...

Love this line:

"I remembers, I thinks, thinks I to myself
Its a long time since he died,
Yet the world don't seem much better to-day
Then when he was crucified."

I hear echoes of Matt. 24:5-7.

Unknown said...

It reminds me of Night, by Elie Waisel, particularly the foreward.

Ryan said...

"And I guess it would finish him up for good
When he came to this old sap end,
And he saw that bundle of nothing there,
For he wept at the grave of a friend.
And they say He was just the Image of God
I wonder if God sheds tears.
I wonder if God can be sorrowing still,
And has been all these years.

It is interesting, when you look at the account of Lazarus being raised from the dead... Jesus was not weeping for Lazarus, but for those around Him who did not have faith that He would raise Him up: "When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled" (John 11:33).

He was troubled because they didn't believe Him! To Martha He said, "...Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?" (John 11:40)

Would Jesus weep at the mess man has created? I believe that the cause of His weeping would be due to lack of faith: "...However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8)

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Ryan:
Well I suppose you are just trying to be provocative, but you are right that Jesus was upset at the lack of faith at the Lazarus event, however does not happen at the juncture you suggest, and so you have badly misread that passage. Firstly Jn. 11.33 is the juncture where it says he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled, and there is nothing at that point about his weeping. Nothing. Furthermore in the Greek, only one of those Greek verbs refers to anger, the other is a verb normally used for feelings of compassion. What one must say then is Jesus had mixed emotions about this situation, and the lack of faith certainly did deeply disturb him, but that was not the only thing that prompted deep feelings on that occasion.

Notice that he weeps when they say "come and see Lord" (see vs. 37), speaking of going to the tomb and it is far more natural to interpret this in light of what was said at the beginning of the story--- Lazarus is the one whom Jesus loved, and there is a reminder about that in the words in vs. 36.

Perhaps you are also forgetting entirely that Jesus himself said that those who mourn would be comforted, and mourning with those who mourned in that culture always meant going and weeping with them.

So yes indeed, Jesus weeps over human sin and stupidity as any parent with a heart would over their own children's misssteps.


Ben W.

Ryan said...


I'm not trying to be provocative, I actually believe the things I'm saying. This poem you have shared is certainly a moving poem, but I question whether or not it accurately depicts the sorrow of God. That's all.

Jesus tells His followers, "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful" (John 14:27). Was Jesus speaking contrary to His actions? The world is troubled when someone is sick and dies and grieves and mourns, but if Jesus were with us and said that the sickness wouldn't end in death, should we shed even one tear?

Today, we mourn at the temporary loss of companionship, but if we really believed in eternal life and that the one who dies lives with God, we would rejoice with them -- if anything to demonstrate to the world the faith of God. Even without Jesus being there and saying that our loved one will arise, our loss is only temporary... "But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope" (1 Thess 4:13).

Jesus said right from the get go "This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it" (John 11:6). In verse 14-15, "So Jesus then said to them plainly, 'Lazarus is dead, and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him." Still, Thomas said "let us also go, so that we may die with him."

Far greater than any other concern and absolutely primary to the text as it is repeated throughout is His desire that they have faith. To weep for Lazarus when He full well knows that he will be alive and 100% well in a few moments is non-sensical! I would be leaping with joy at the thought of seeing this! So I contend that the text breathes that He weeps solely for the people who do not believe.

Ben Witherington said...

Well, Ryan, you have forgotten about the whole issue of compassion for others, which Jesus modeled on various occasions. Remember his weeping over Jerusalem perhaps? And of course the sickness of Lazarus did end in death--- he died! And Jesus then raised him. While I certainly agree that Christians after Easter ought not to mourn like non-Christians, none of these folks in this story were yet Christians, and they were part of the whole early Jewish system of mourning, which involved a whole week of crying and the like at and near the grave.

The Greek verbs are perfectly clear here, and cannot both be applied to Jesus' consternation about the lack of faith. Sorry, that doesn't work. So, you are partially right, and partially wrong. Jesus wept because his friend Lazarus died, and this had caused his friends the sisters lots of grief.


Ben W.

Ryan said...

Ben wrote... "Well, Ryan, you have forgotten about the whole issue of compassion for others..."

I thought your post was entitled "The Sorrow of God" not "The Compassion of God"? I was simply sticking to the topic, but if you want to talk about compassion, we can do that too. Rom 12:15 tells us to weep with those that weep; this to me would be your strongest case here that Jesus was weeping with them. However, while the things that cause us grief also grieve God, it is clear that Jesus here is very distraught about their lack of faith, and He cries. I can understand what you are saying though, since the people there said the same thing: "So the Jews were saying, 'See how He loved him!'" However, some were more astute, and rightly observed, "Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind man, have kept this man also from dying?"

Regarding His compassion, Jesus had compassion on people all the time by receiving them, teaching them and healing them. But He didn't go around weeping--it was only once explicitly, maybe one more time implicitly. Again, we are talking about His sorrow here, and He was clearly sorrowful because of their lack of faith.

Ben wrote... "Remember his weeping over Jerusalem perhaps?"

I assume you are referring to Luke 13:34 / Matt 23:37:

"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling."

If Jesus weeps here, it is because of their lack of repentance and faith. It could be that when He will be judge them He will be weeping all the while. That sounds like God's sorrow. This reminds me of Kind David as he wept over his son Absalom. It is one thing when your enemy despises you, but another thing entirely when it is your son. And Israel is often referred to as God's firstborn son.

"But Jesus turning to them said, 'Daughters of Jerusalem, stop weeping for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. ... For if they do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?'" (Luke 23:28,31).

Ryan said...

Ah, I found it: Luke 19:41-42: "When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, 'If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes.'"

Obviously He was not grieving together with Jerusalem, but for her.

Ben wrote... "in the Greek, only one of those Greek verbs refers to anger, the other is a verb normally used for feelings of compassion."

I found the notes in my NASB word study interesting (copied below):

A distinction must be drawn between dakrúō and klaíō. Unfortunately, dakrúō is translated "wept" in Joh_11:35, whereas it should be translated, "He shed a tear" (a.t.) or "tears" (a.t.). The verb weep as a loud expression of grief is klaíō, and is man's reaction toward death (Mar_5:38-39; Mar_16:10; Luk_7:13; Luk_8:52; Joh_11:31; Joh_20:11, Joh_20:13; Act_9:39). In all these instances we have man's reaction toward death in weeping, wailing, loudly crying. When the Lord, however, stood before the tomb of Lazarus, He simply shed a tear as if to say to those around Him that He was Master of the situation, even if that situation was death. Our Lord is never said to have wept aloud as if wailing, except when He stood over unrepentant Jerusalem in Luk_19:41, "And when he was come near, he beheld the city, [being unrepentant and having rejected Him] and wept [éklausen {G2799}, wept aloud] over it." Before the dead Lazarus He simply shed a tear, but before unrepentant Jerusalem He shows deep, loud grief in crying. Nothing makes the Lord Jesus more sorrowful than when He is rejected as the Savior that He came to be.

DanO said...

A note on the apparent nationalism of the last lines.

For the voice of the Lord, as I hear it now/ Is the voice of my pals that bled,/ And the call of my country's God to me/ Is the call of my country's dead.

It is, I think, possible to read the last two lines in a more subversive manner (regardless of authorial intention). Those lines could also be taken to mean that any form of religion that connects "God" and "country" results in the death (or sacrifice) of the inhabitants of that country. On this reading, the last two lines are actually juxtaposed with the two preceding lines. Thus, the "voice of the Lord" is in opposition to (and different than) the "call of my country's God". In the end, the mourning and suffering God revealed in Christ, is contrasted with the death-dealing national gods.

Just a thought.

Harvey Schmidlapp said...

You can find this poem in its original form along with the rest of the text of The Unutterable Beauty here: G. A. Studdert Kennedy - The Unutterable Beauty (1927)

MCWilliams said...

In Mark 14:34 Jesus speaks, "My soul is very sorrowful, even to death." Even to death! We see from this verse that Jesus, who as stated by a previous comment is Immanuel, God with us, does exert sorrow. But why does he do so? Well from this verse it is clearly the time of the Garden of Gethsemane, the time before His crucifixion. I think a lot of us fail to realize the spiritual nature of what is going on here. Jesus was facing a death of no hope. He was going to see God as a Holocaust. He was carrying all the sins of all His people. Martin Luther calls Him the "worst sinner that ever lived." God sees sin for what it is and knows the punishment of sin and it terrifies Him because He knows the outcome of what He is about to face. We find Jesus in these passages not the type of hero that we so often venerate, one who boldly faces his death and never cracks. Jesus wasn't that. He finds the most intimate words He can use "Abba" as He continues basically saying, don't make me do this! Yet He does it anyways. And Jesus utters "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?" The only time EVER Jesus doesn't address Him as Father, instead, He cries out my God where are you!? I think it makes us feel uncomfortable to think of God feeling pain or sorrow, but in any case I believe He does because are sin is yet more destructive than we could ever imagine, but yet God is more loving than we could ever possibly begin to imagine.