“Life is pain. Anyone who says otherwise is selling something.”
– Wesley in The Princess Bride
As Trevor mentioned yesterday, suffering can be a difficult topic to think through. I think we approach it in a couple of ways:
1. We know suffering will happen, but we’d rather ignore its inevitability. We do our best to insulate ourselves from the fact that we know life is going to hurt. Especially in this part of the globe, where we have money and things that can serve as buffers to the pains of life. In fact, we like to act like things are fine most of the time and even act shocked when it happens to us. But deep down we know it’s coming. Whether it’s the loss of a job or an accident or the death of someone close to us, suffering looms as a dark figure on the margins of our lives even when we’d rather pretend it’s not there.
2. We want our suffering to mean something. Especially as Christians, we often try to find meaning in everything. It could be as simple as making that green light or catching finding that $20 bill in your jeans when you do the laundry. But our belief that God is up to something big and that he cares about the details of our lives lead us to search for meaning in everything. Which can be a great exercise. But when something like a house fire or death crashes into our existence, then it causes trouble. So we ask, “Why does God allow this to happen?” We want to see that our suffering is serving a greater purpose. That it means something.
So today, as I think through these realities, a couple of thoughts:
1. More important than if suffering will occur is how we respond when it does. Just try reading through Scripture sometime. It’s like “Variations on the Theme of Suffering.” From the beginning to the end, it’s the story of people dealing with life and God through some triumphs, but also a lot of suffering. And look at the world around us. All day, every day – it’s there. Suffering is a part of life. A big one. But to anticipate suffering does not ruin the joy of the everyday; it gives us perspective when it does occur. Will we surround ourselves with a community of people and pour into them, knowing that we will need them when the proverbial junk hits the fan? Can we respond with joy and faith – even when it’s hard – because we are not caught off guard?
2. Not everything that happens in this world originates from God. Some things in life have no explanation. Sometimes life is just pain. Our world is broken and dark and painful. We work ourselves into some awful corners when we believe that God is orchestrating every event. So when a friend loses a child, we say “God must have needed another angel,” thinking that it is somehow soothing. So God needed another angel and arranged the death of a child to fill a heavenly gap? No, sometimes tragedies occur for no other reason than the world is broken and filled with sinners who hurt one another. You know, sinners like me.
3. The most important thing is that God doesn’t ignore suffering, but enters into it with us. It’s part of what I find so fascinating about Jesus. He didn’t throw himself off the temple and let angels rescue him as Satan tempted him to do. No, he went voluntarily to a cross. He suffered himself. God enters into our suffering with us and sits with us through injustice. What hurts us hurts him. We are not alone.