Yesterday evening, as I sat browsing through my Facebook feed and pondering the events of the day, I was suddenly and without warning overwhelmed by a deep sense of sadness, to the point of tears. I’d been thinking about the escalating military action in Israel, about the plight of cross-border refugees, and about a private disagreement that I had seen spill over onto Facebook in public fashion. Here are some words I shared on Facebook to try to capture what I was feeling:
There are times when my heart hurts. For the forgotten, starving child; for the rejected immigrant who seems to be little more than a political pawn; for the mothers, fathers and kids trying to peacefully get on with their lives who suddenly become collateral damage in an age-old territorial dispute; for the never-ending cycle of one-upmanship and rivalry that puts being right above being together. And, most of all, for my own selfishness, judgmentalism and lack of love.
This deep feeling of sadness really took me by surprise. I guess we’re so used to living in this world of pain and injustice that we become very practised at ignoring and burying all the sorrow and suffering that surrounds us and putting on a brave face so we can continue to live as good little citizens and consumers. Not to mention good little Christians. I mean, “the joy of the Lord”, right?
Once in a while, for whatever reason, we find ourselves in a place where events, thoughts and feelings coalesce in such a way that some of this buried pain breaks through the surface of our practiced indifference and we find ourselves deeply moved. This, I think, is what I felt yesterday evening.
Our natural human response to pain, of course, is to cry “Make it stop!” Accordingly, we often try to make God into a divine cure-all, ready to wave his healing wand and make it all go away as soon as things get too much for us. In some ways, I wish this were true.
However, no matter how much positive thinking and your-best-life-now theology you’ve absorbed, there comes a point when you have to accept that life just doesn’t work that way and, more to the point, neither does God. Tremendous pain and suffering continue unabated in both small ways and large. I’m not suggesting we should sit back and glibly accept this state of affairs without resistance; but I am saying that to believe in a God who always intervenes to make the pain stop is akin to believing in fairy tales – we’d like it to be true, but it’s not the real world. And to promote belief in such a God is to encourage others to deny reality.
Somehow, at some level, then, we have to come to terms with the pain and suffering that plague us, both in our own personal lives and in the wider world. Here is the only conclusion I can come to: I cannot make the pain of the world go away. But I can invite into it the One who is deeply committed to walking through it with me, and with all of us – the One who carries in his hands and his feet the scars of his commitment.
I believe we are made to be united with the divine and to live lives that are congruent with the reality of that union. As Christians, this should be the hope towards which we yearn, and towards which the Spirit empowers us to reach. But, because our mental picture of God is so often one of clinical perfection, we think in order to achieve such union we also must achieve perfection – which means we must transcend pain and failure.
Given our natural flight response when faced with pain, this is a logical way to think. But to think this way is to allow our theology to be framed by western philosophy rather than by the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. If Jesus’ life, passion and death show us anything, they show us that the Father of Jesus is a God whose perfection is most fully expressed not in transcendent, unattainable supremacy but in suffering and brokenness.
We must, of course, seek to bring relief wherever we find suffering. To fail to do so would be to deny the healing, restorative impetus of God’s redemptive work in history. But, even as we do so, we must also hold the reality that pain and suffering will be our companions throughout our earthly lives. This is the tension in which we are called to live.
And so, when I find myself in the midst of overwhelming pain and sorrow, I hold onto the hope that our wounds, our feebleness, our brokenness and our weakness – the things that are apt to cause us so much pain and despair – are the very places where Jesus works and is most clearly revealed. This, in some sense, is the foolishness of God and the folly of the cross. I have a hunch that it’s also something of what the Apostle Paul was getting at when he penned these famous words:
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. (2 Corinthians 4:7-9)
And I also hold onto the hope that a day will come when every tear will be wiped away, and all our pain will be nothing more than a memory and a collection of healed scars.
Even so, come, Lord Jesus. Come now, in the midst of your people, and bring healing to a tired and hurting world.
[ Image: Anaïs ]