March 18, 2019
Weekly Reflection – Suffering and Faith
Suffering! It is an experience that is common to each of us. It is not comfortable. No one wants it. It hurts. And there are no exceptions. Suffering does not depend on our state in life, our age, or our tribe. It is a collective experience of humanity. And we work to avoid it at all costs.
But why does suffering exist?? If God is caring, why does he allow such suffering?
Why? Why? Why? Why do we suffer, even when we do everything right; even when we are “good little boys and girls”? We shout that we do not deserve this! Why me? We really do not understand, and we cannot understand. I get concerned when someone says they do understand. And it does not help to blame God, although sometimes we feel like shaking our fist at God for the troubles that have come upon us or our loved ones. The psalmists certainly did. See Psalm 77.
How about prayer? I heard a talk this past week on suffering. The speaker shared how a year ago, he was diagnosed with a tennis ball-sized tumor in his right lung. After completing several rounds of chemotherapy the doctors were amazed to find that they were unable to detect any remaining sign of cancer. It was gone! The speaker attributed this positive result to the power of the prayers of hundreds of concerned friends.
That sounds good. But what about my wife? She suffered from cancer in her lungs also. And hundreds of friends prayed for healing. But in the end, she died. Why did God cure the speaker but not my wife? We just do not understand, and we cannot understand.
In his book, Disappointment With God, Phillip Yancy says that no, we cannot understand. But that does not demolish his faith. In a video based on the book, he shares his definition of faith. Yancy says his definition of faith is “believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse.” We do not understand now, but someday in the future, we will understand. In the meantime, we live by faith.
So how do we handle this thing called suffering? Here is what one person suggested. Convert it to power, even if we do not deserve whatever has befallen us. Yes, we try to overcome whatever is causing the pain, but one does not have to excess over it. At some point, it will be time to embrace the pain. Accept it as Jesus did when he said, “Thy will be done.” Then do our best to live with it. Give God space to step into the situation.
I am reminded of the huge amount of suffering my grandparents underwent as they immigrated in 1930 from Denmark to the United States. Living as sharecroppers during the depression in South Texas, it took over a decade to begin to get back on their feet. But today as we look at their dozens of prodigy and the good lives that are being experienced, the suffering seems to have been worth it.
Sometimes we find ourselves with family members who are especially challenged. Perhaps they are chronically or mentally ill. Perhaps they are addicted or have adopted a failing lifestyle. Perhaps they are simply hard to get along with.
Suffer In Love
I recently heard a suggestion that it might be most helpful to do what is reasonable to solve or deal with whatever their issue may be, but in the end, the most healthy stance might be to accept the suffering, give space to God and let him have it. Then treat the individual as a part of the family, with love and caring. Do not continue to try to solve it. Deal with it! Suffer with others out of love. Suffering becomes difficult when we continue trying to solve it rather than accept it as a mystery.
And we will retain our place in the body of Christ that suffers along with us. If one member of the body suffers, the whole body suffers. We all feel it. The trick is learning how to tap into the power of suffering. In a sense redemption is the act of turning our suffering into power, of giving God space to step into our life and make it all ok. It may not be too strong to suggest that crosses are meant to be carried.
So those are my somewhat rambling thoughts on suffering. I write them sandwiched in between two large men in the middle seat of row 27 on an evening flight from New Orleans to Dallas. It is not the same as having cancer, but it is a wonderful opportunity to embrace the suffering faithfully!
Blessings and peace,
For more on suffering and faith, read Rejoice in Your Suffering and Finish the Race