The Idea of a Supreme Master of the Universe may not bother someone who has never been afflicted with great distress or pain. The Idea makes no special effort to win this one over.
Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.
—Jesus Christ (Matthew 9.12)
To the Sufferer, however, no idea could be more obnoxious. The Sufferer fights against it, wrestles with it. He cannot accept it, not on the Idea’s terms, which are the highest pitch of absurdity to him if he is actually one who has suffered great distress and pain. The terms must change if the Idea is to win him over.
So we say that the Idea may win him over, but not as other ideas do. Something else is needed. To win him over, the Idea, supreme and masterful, presents itself to the Sufferer in the form of suffering, which is the only form a sufferer recognizes with a feeling of certainty. Into the world that declares itself safe and secure, into the world that is already full of the Idea of a Supreme Master of the Universe, this Idea comes to wrestle with the Sufferer, yet not in the form of one who is free from distress and pain, and not in the form of a mighty one who overpowers the Sufferer as all other things in the world do.—Now, before we go farther, we should pause to make sure we understand that the Idea, in “coming to wrestle,” is no longer an idea but a man fully possessing an idea; it is no longer the Idea of a Supreme Master of the Universe but the Supreme Master himself. So the Supreme Master comes neither as a happy man nor as a powerful man, for both of these would fail to carry the Idea to the Sufferer in a form that a sufferer recognizes with a feeling of certainty. As has been said, the Supreme Master comes to the Sufferer in the form of suffering.
Irony holds the keys to a sufferer’s heart. The Idea knows this, so it must win the Sufferer over by means of an ironic choice. So far we have seen that the Supreme Master comes in the form of suffering. This is the beginning of irony but not its completion. If he only comes to appear as a sufferer, going through the obvious motions of distress and pain, then he fails to complete the ironic choice. In this case, he would have settled for a cheap irony, would have temporarily fooled the Sufferer to accept an idea. No, this is not irony at all but dissimulation, irony’s antithesis and lookalike. The Sufferer will eventually discover the deception. And this discovery will drive him farther from the Idea because he has a difficult enough time accepting the Idea of a Supreme Master without thinking that the Supreme Master is also a deceiver. So to complete the ironic choice, rigorous irony demands that the Supreme Master suffer genuinely and thoroughly.
The Supreme Master comes, and the complete ironic choice is that he, in utter humiliation, lets the Sufferer win the wrestling match. The Supreme Master is overcome, even by the Sufferer. And then the Sufferer, if he is actually one who has suffered great distress and pain, may recognize through a kind of sympathy what this humiliated man is: a humiliated god, and a god whose humiliation is masterfully designed and executed for him, the Sufferer. In this way we begin to see how the Sufferer may be won over by the Idea of a Supreme Master of the Universe.
For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.