Today the formula of vicarious suffering is as familiar to us as it is difficult for us to explain. Ever since Kant’s work on religion of 1793, it has been asserted repeatedly that the idea of vicarious suffering is no longer comprehensible because guilt, as an “intrinsic personal failure,” is nontransferable. Guilt, according to Kant, is
not a transmissible liability which can be made over to somebody else, in the manner of a financial debt (where it is all the same to the creditor whether the debtor himself pays up, or somebody else for him), but the most personal of all liabilities, namely a debt of sins which only the culprit, not the innocent, can bear, however magnanimous the innocent might be in wanting to take the debt upon himself for the other.
The difficulties with the idea of vicarious suffering come in this case from a particular view of humanity, namely, from the axiom of the nonrepresentability of the subject: as long as the subject sets the standard for his own responsibility, guilt, too, remains his alone and cannot be taken away by anything or anyone. “Guilt is always one’s own, because it is attached to the ego, and no one can give anyone else his ego (G. Friedrich).”
Citation: Janowski, Bernd. “He Bore Our Sins: Isaiah 53 and the Drama of Taking Another’s Place.” In The Suffering Servant: Isaiah 53 in Jewish and Christian Sources, by Bernd Janowski and Peter Stuhlmacher, 48-74. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2004.