In the dogmatic tradition regarding the essence of God’s involvement with the human predicament of suffering, categories from the Roman and Greek culture are applied most of the time. An example is to be found in the Psalter Hymnal of the Reformed Christian Church: “And as God Himself is most wise, unchangeable, omniscient, and omnipotent, so the election made by Him can neither be interrupted nor changed, recalled, or annulled; neither can the elect be cast away, nor their number diminished.” In this regard, depictions of Christ in traditional iconography are used to bolster Christianity against paganism and heresy. In many doctrinal formulations Christ is portrayed with “omni-” categories like omnipotence and omniscience. God’s El Shaddai (the Hebrew wisdom tradition regarding the splendid majesty of Yahweh’s grace) had been translated into pantokrator categories that depicted Christ as a Roman Caesar. When Christianity was threatened, a kind of divine imperialism was introduced to justify a clerical ecclesiology and maintain dogmatic stances regarding social life problems.
When referring to, for example, the will of God, denominations in their official confessions tend to make use of the very positivistic principle of the uncompromising, rigid will of God (impassibilitas Dei). It happened in the way churches made use of a “natural theology”, specifically in the theological justification of the apartheid ideology. Cultural and racial separation was promoted by referring to diversity in creation. This “natural” kind of hermeneutic was used in order to maintain a discriminatory approach. The need for new paradigms in hermeneutic of human suffering, and the necessity of ideological changes, indicate that fixed formulae used to describe doctrinal stances failed to foster paradigmatic changes. This is why the article proposes the aesthetics of an optic gaze in visual arts as a possible medium for meaningful change. Two paintings from the series Cross-Roads (about the presence of a suffering God in a squatter camp on the Cape Flats) are used to foster a theology of compassionate being-with. To strengthen the applicability of a theopaschitic approach (the passio Dei), two obscure concepts from Pauline thinking (skandalon and skúbalon) are used to promote a paradigm shift, namely from a metaphysical model to a paschitic model of theologising in pastoral caregiving.
Keywords: a practical theology of filthy disgust; aesthetics in visual arts; the optic of a loving gaze; the vulnerability of a suffering God; theopaschitic theology