Some Personal Thoughts on Suffering: 1

A friend of mine once asked for some Bible passages for a friend who was going through some rather serious difficulties. The following is taken from my response.

 I am not sure what scriptures may be directly helpful. I don’t think this is the kind of problem that lends itself to “proof-text” solutions. Some things of are David’s story at the death of his son, or, most directly, the entire book of Job.

As I looked on line for suggestions, I came up with a bunch of teachings on acceptance, on the sovereign reign of God. The problem with this, of course, is that it is only because God is sovereign that we are mad at Him at all. Otherwise, we would just be made at the cancer, or the car wreck, or the other driver, etc., and some advice seems to take this approach. Rabbi Kushner’s “Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People” seems the chief in this approach. Leonard Bernstein’s “Kaddish” symphony (#3) is a very, very angry exploration of Jewish expectation of an all-powerful, all-loving God, in light of the trauma experienced by Israel. The anger is very real and passionate. It resolves, but only by an acceptance that God is, like the rest of us, doing the best He can. This line of thought attempts to solve the problem by letting God off the hook. I don’t think that will do.

As I see it, this problem is one of the reasons to continually be involved in Bible study. I find very little comfort in individual verses; and the point of crisis is not “a teachable moment” for most. With one exception. And that is the goodness of God.

Passages that speak of the goodness of God are likely –as a barrage of proof-texts- to simply increase the anger –“Well that’s not what God has done to ME!” for which the introspective sad answer is that “if it’s true that he is loving, it must also true that he doesn’t love me.”

But to stay engaged with God –to keep receiving the Eucharist, to keep praying, to be involved on a level of reality (and of course this means expressing the anger) is the only way to be confronted by the disconnect between “the goodness and love of God” and what it is that I experienced. I don’t think there is any verse that will solve that. But if the dialogue is maintained, there is room for God himself to solve it

I am more and more drawn to a combination of verses to God’s eternal goodness and mercy, combined with the story of Job – summarized thus:

  • Job was a good and devout man who suffered a series of unexplained disasters.
  • His friends tried to comfort, then confront him with the “conventional wisdom” about the ways of God, particularly His justice, and that things always have a rational explanation.
  • The more Job thinks about it, the angrier he gets; both at his friends, and at God.
  • The problem is resolved when God speaks for Himself out of His direct relationship with Job. He does not answer Job’s questions, but Job finds that he himself has been answered. He finds that the wound in his soul has been healed, and he is no longer angry.
  • God declares that in this whole deal, ONLY JOB (even in his anger) had spoken rightly. In doing this, God affirmed that Job had been right to speak as he did, with all his anger against God. God affirmed that Job had been right to demand that God “show up” for an accounting –anything other than simply cut himself off from God, and end the relationship (as Job’s wife told him to do).
  • Job never does (at least inside the story) understand anything of what all his trauma was about. And yet he is healed.

I believe this story is the true answer to Rabbi Kuchner, and very accurately lays out the case.

But in the hour of pain, the answer is like the only answer that has any power when we are hurt as a young child. No amount of “why” will help. Only the lap and embrace of someone we ultimately trust, even in the midst of our anger, is that anger safe to explore and can it be resolved.

I would only encourage your friend to stay engaged with God – to be very real with Him about his anger, and why; and to contemplate how that works with the things he already knows about the character of God. Read the psalms as an aid both to expressing the depth of his anger and hurt at God, and as an expression, with David, of hope and healing in the midst of trouble. Psalm 30 comes to mind among others that you know better than I. But I think that continuing engagement with God is the thing. He will show up, as he did for Job, and –over years of my complaint- did for me. And just like with Job and me, he can well speak for himself. Stay with him. Stay real with Him.

I know this is not quite what was ordered, but I hope there is something in here that helps.

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