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God and Black Suffering: Calling the Oppressors to Account

James H. Cone

This essay addresses the topic of religion and violence from the perspective of a people who have endured violence in America. It is not possible, theologically, to talk about God and black suffering without calling the oppressors to account. Enslaved Africans turned to biblical religion to make meaning in a strange world. The predominant themes of justice, hope, and love have characterized black faith, assuring believers that, despite white assertion of superiority, blacks are made in the image of God and are beloved children of God. Maintaining this conviction as white superiority has continued unabated has been made possible by context-oriented readings of the Book of Exodus, the prophets, and the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The different approaches to combating evil of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X inspired black clergy and theologians to begin theology “from below” and develop a theology of liberation that fosters hope and the struggle for justice. In the ongoing struggle for meaning in the midst of suffering there is no intellectual or theoretical answer that will ease the pain of evil and injustice. We solve the mystery of evil’s existence by fighting it. And faith is real only to the degree it endows us with the courage to fight.

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