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.
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 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.
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.
“…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)