photo by Jane Lurie, check her out at http://janeluriephotography.wordpress.com/
photo by Jane Lurie, check her out at http://janeluriephotography.wordpress.com/

Today I have the privilege of sharing with you a guest post from a fantastic writer the Holistic Wayfarer.  She runs the very diverse blog, A Holistic Journey, where you will find the spiritual, academic, and poetic, all wrapped up in a very intelligent and thoroughly humane and thought provoking package.  Today’s article, The Question of Human Suffering, is a topic that people of all faiths can relate to.  Enjoy and please remember to visit the The Holistic Wayfarer at her site as well.

The Question of Human Suffering

More times than I can name, my wayfaring has been a desperate crawl. This is not a metaphor, for there were days I could not drag my broken body downstairs for the mail.

Jan 2003 ~ Meningitis. The virus had taken itself up in my spine and lining of the brain. Journal:

At every turn of the neck, the world exploded from stereos on max – inside my head. I could do nothing but weep driving home. Never have I known such blinding pain. I really did not want to live like this anymore.

That night, I plumbed depths of rock bottom I didn’t know were there. The pain was so great nothing mattered anymore. Not finding a job, making ends meet. I just wanted to drop everything and die.

An email from a cancer survivor:
Been processing resentment in my life. God is showing me how I’ve been building that up in my life and it affects my immune system making me susceptible to disease.

February 2003
There have been mornings I would wake and realize with wonder my eyes had opened. That I was given another day. The awe came with…disappointment.

Midmonth – exactly ten years before I would start blogging – I found a totally unexpected check for $500 in the mail on my 30th birthday. The bills would be paid that month.

There is no word for what God has done tonight other than that He “disarmed” me. For the first time, I was enabled to pray blessings upon those who have hurt me or whose blessings I have begrudged. It hit me in prayer that, as I know what it is to be in the eye of the storm, I know what it is to be in the eye of thunderous blessing.

How slow I have been to learn the weightiest, simplest truths these 13 years in Christ: we are meant to grow not glibly on wings of ease but in suffering, and this thing called faith is meant to be lived out with the support of others. The ABCs…..perhaps they are also the XYZ. I marvel that I have marveled at suffering.

March 2003 ~ God wasn’t done breaking me. So He sent me $1000 this time. Through an anonymous donor.

While I have harbored suspicious reserve of my God and His heart for me in these maddening trials, the one I should remain suspicious of is myself and my resolve to change. Even my most genuine, sweetest moments of repentance may be but moments; I know my heart, at least in times of sanity. With [Martin] Luther, I know I am as helpless to sanctify myself as I am to justify myself.

Something breaks. In order to restore it, you have to know the intent of its maker in the original design. What is the object of our living? The two-car garage white-picket watchdog two cute kids?

Across the spectrum of distinct faiths, we find that those who’ve struck the purest of gold in joy and freedom are those who’ve renounced themselves most simply and profoundly. Heaven’s for later. My pastor recently said, “God’s blessings come in interesting ways. And we never see the completed work this side of heaven.”

We come to the most famous historical narrative on suffering. Job had lost everything we define our life by and legitimately treasure: children, home, possessions, wealth, livelihood, health. Oh, Job wept. He literally lay in the dust. Pastor Dr. Timothy Keller provides one of the most thoughtful treatments on the question of human suffering. He says the Christian perspective is entirely realistic. We don’t minimize the impact of tragedy and loss. When it sucks, we acknowledge it does (my paraphrase). We don’t try to zone out of it. We weep, enter its fullness – I would add, like Jesus. He didn’t meditate himself out of the agony on the Cross. He refused the wine offered him in his thirst, wouldn’t dull himself away. It was His surrender to the torment that redeemed both Himself and His bride, the Church. In the book of Job, our Maker does not apologize. Contrary to what many have imagined in times that strain, God does not lament here either – at least, in flummoxed helplessness. He even seems to go off topic when He finally presents Himself to answer Job. God’s own query points to the limits on our knowledge and strength.

The book of Job, Chapter 38, as I examined those early months in 2003:

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?

Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off…Surely you know!
Who stretched…
Who shut up the sea……
Have you ever given orders….
Have you journeyed…

Have you seen…
Have you comprehended the vast…
Tell me, if you know all this.
Can you…
Do you know
Surely you know….
Can you bind….
Can you lose…..

Can you bring forth….lead out…
Do you know the laws of the heavens?
Can you set up……
Can you raise…
Do you send…..

Can you hold him…
Can your voice…..?”

Chapter 42, Job’s reply:
“I know that YOU CAN do ALL things; no plan of yours can be thwarted…
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.”

Why do we suffer? I, for one, realized I ate nonfoods my whole life and then petitioned friends for prayer when Natural Law kicked in. Whether in the way we mistreat ourselves or others, more troubles than we will admit are manmade. Of course affliction visits lives that contributed nothing to it. And when fists shake at God, the Church offers a range of well-meaning answers that justify Him or us. But theology does not satisfy the cries of the heart. Job 42. Where were we when He rolled out the universe and furnished it in spectacle? Indeed we are but a vapor. Theologian J.I. Packer said we must acknowledge the mystery of God. I don’t see that He would remain God were we able to unlock the secrets of His glory. In my book, a God who hangs his head in attrition or fits inside my fabrications and understanding is not worthy of worship.

 

 

The Holistic Wayfarer

“…When I hit the age that embodies spiritual gestation, something happened.  I remembered I was more than a mother.  Motherhood is no less my solemn charge today than it has been the last six years.  But the woman God had created to reflect Him in her way even before she birthed her child had gone missing.  I remembered that writing is how I really breathe.

So I’m no longer holding my breath.” (click here for full Bio)

8 Comments

  1. Unmerited suffered is one of the most challenging issues in theology. It is a cause for many to lose faith and a reason many people are atheists. Some may believe God exits but just don’t want anything to do with Him. All the reasoning by scholars and theologians that present ideas explaining why unmerited suffering is part of life may sound reasonable to them but it is pure hogwash for the suffering. I never appreciated the lesson that the Job story is supposed to present. An example of faith in the face the worst circumstances? God testing us ? I don’t need a god to test me as evil tests me every day and I need a god that fortifies me.

    One idea that brings a slight degree of understanding is the Crucifixion. Beyond Christ’s paying the price our sins it is also perhaps an example that God feels and understands human suffering. Still, if I were the Creator I would have set things up much differently.

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  2. Thank you for writing such a powerful piece Diana. I think Sreejit is right, it is something people of all, or at least most, faiths will be able to relate to.

    Reading it brought to mind something my brother wrote before his death. He was diagnosed with colon cancer at 35 years of age, months after he finished his residency to become an oncologist. He died at 39.

    *********
    Truth I Live By
    (William John Smith 1953-1992)

    Everything makes sense. This can be paraphrased many different ways, although many attempts are less accurate. One of Voltaire’s characters stated, “All is for the best, in the best of all possible worlds. This is unnecessarily optimistic. My phrasing doesn’t imply that everything that happens to us is good either in the short or the long term. Everyone experiences moments or long periods of unpleasantness. One can hope that over the long period of a lifetime these sad times may not add up to much overall, but most persons with a little thought can think of individuals whom “fate has treated unkindly,” i.e. who have received more than their share of agonies. I’m not sure how long ago I came to believe (or realize) that fairness isn’t the issue. There is nothing fair about life, either in distribution of rewards or unhappiness. And what’s to say that it should be fair. If each of us had an opportunity to create a world, then maybe that’s an attribute that we would build in. But this world is not of our making, and all of the mental checklists that we might make comparing who’s gotten more breaks than we have, etc., will never change the fact that we have to make the best of what we’ve got, not despair over what we perceive as inequities. So life isn’t fair. How do we cope with that? One way might be to remind ourselves that no matter how bad things seem to be at any one time, a little time spent flipping around the TV channel or reading a news magazine will serve as a reminder that we should be embarrassed to be heard complaining about the vast majority of things that concern us. I don’t doubt for a second that I have lived a very privileged existence compared to 90% of the world’s people.

    I’m not sure that that is the best way to approach a new tragedy, though (i.e., making ourselves feel better by thinking of others doing worse). I would appreciate a more optimistic approach. The best way to greet each unpleasant event is to grab it by the throat and make the best of it. My wife and I have both had our share of suffering, almost all of it, I’m happy to say proceeding our first date. There is no doubt that led to a degree of maturity that made our time together (pre-diagnosis and post-diagnosis) much more meaningful than the lives of those growing up “with the silver spoons.”

    Is cancer unfair? Is it fair that we should expect billions of cells in our body to reproduce over and over again, over an entire lifetime, and always get it right? Doesn’t it make more sense to recognize the initial miracle of our birth, the magnificence of our growth into feeling, loving, praising adults, the privilege of experiencing enough of life that we can despair over not having the time to spend longer doing the same? One of the things I am most grateful for is that many, many years ago I learned to be grateful for what I’ve been given. I didn’t, as occurs with many, only get shocked into this realization by a terminal tragedy. This type of appreciation often does begin in the midst of despair, and for that reason I am actually glad that I had enough hard times as a young man, to allow me to think hard about what things are and are not important. Accordingly, for the past 15 or 20 years, I’ve been able to ignore aspects of 20th century American living that are of no consequence to me (parties, cars, frivolous chatter, clubs, etc.) and concentrate on things that touch me personally. I am forever grateful for what it was that dropped the blinders from my eyes so many years ago.

    I am very sad that people seem to see so little of the world around them. I can’t walk outside without seeing the beauty of our created world, from the rainbow in a line of earthworm slime, to another visible ring on Jupiter. We have been given this magnificent world to study and enjoy in limitless detail at any level, microscopic to cosmic. Even though I have enough things to interest me another 10 lifetimes, I must take solace in knowing that, at least compared to others, I’ve had much more than my share even in half a life time.

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    1. Karuna, it is beautiful. What a glimpse into such a wise, precious soul. So much to learn from him, and it wasn’t even the despair of cancer that had taught him these lessons. The entitlement factor – I think, esp in America – is something huge your brother put his finger on. I hope you share this extraordinary tribute to life with as many people as you can.

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  3. Hi Carl, so I’ve opened Pandora’s Box. I will not be arguing for or defending God. He doesn’t need it. I agree we all would’ve done things much differently behind the wheel. Ha ha there is a child’s book of poetry titled “If I Were in Charge of the World.” Goodness, perish the thought. I couldn’t build a cat or lay out the cosmos and maintain the oxygen-CO2 balance on Earth, let alone love creatures who refused Paradise and all that was good for them. Love them enough to exchange my fullness and riches and glory and power for rags, agony, cold, hunger, insult, spit in my face.

    The “unmerited” is where Christians would differ. It forces us to trace our emotional resistance, our offended sensibilities, back to who we are in the big scheme of things, what it is we are entitled to. Except it’s not a power game. It is a love story, the glimpse you caught in the Crucifixion.

    Dr. Tim Keller has distilled the Christian message more simply and profoundly than any modern thinker I’ve come across: we are more sinful than we imagine and more loved than we can dare hope.

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  4. I definitely agree with you fully. God is too great to fit into the limited box we call intellect.
    Your Pastor puts it wonderfully when stating… “God’s blessings come in interesting ways. And we never see the completed work this side of heaven.”

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