Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Muses on suffering

Is there such a thing as Christian suffering?  I used to believe so.  Suffer for Christ!  Suffer with loud humility, because it's a deliverance to a closer relationship to God!  Keep that goal in mind, and your pain won't hurt as much!

But during a recent sermon on suffering and hope, these thoughts struck me in response to one of the three sermon points.

"Suffering is inevitable but not meaningless."

Is the unspoken addendum, since this is a sermon after all, that suffering "in Christ" is what has meaning?  Because suffering, in many cases, has no immediate discernible meaning.  That's why it's called suffering.  From the great sufferings: millions of deaths in the recent Asian tsunamis, to the individual: death of an unborn or recently born child, the immediate suffering and trial hasn't a meaning.  It just is.

This kind of idea promotes a very individualistic faith: what does your suffering mean to you.  Find a meaning for yourself, so you'll feel better.

But your perceived meaning might not be what God actually intended when He ordained it.  And besides, doesn't that seem rather narcissistic?

But maybe meaning can be immediately ascribed because there multiple meanings and purposes?  I honestly don't know.

I do know that Job, in the Scriptures, didn't magnify or glorify God in the secret hidden purpose of his suffering at the very time of his suffering.  (And wasn't his suffering just to prove a point to Satan?  How could he get some kind of cosmic comfort from that, after the loss of his children and everything he owned?) Neither did David.  Many of his Psalms portray him crying.  Hidden in a cave.

Suffering is described as having childbirth pangs, moving toward something, having a purpose.

Okay, yes, true, in a way.  I would hope that people are not stagnant or learning nothing from the events of their lives.  But the end goal isn't really rememberable in the midst of suffering and pain.  At the time of pain--the deaths of my children--the Hope of the Glorious Reunion entered not into my mind.  All I could know, all I could feel, was small moments of overwhelming suffering.  Platitudes that "God knows what He's doing," and, "It's all a part of His plan, so rejoice," did nothing to comfort me.

Even that childbirth metaphor can be broken down: while experiencing birth pangs, the feeling is in the here-and-now, and a birthing mother can't always think of the coming child, or her concentration is broken and childbirth turns from a beautiful experience to an out of control train ride!

No, childbirth pangs are here-and-now experiences.  Abiding but a moment.  And then another. And that's all.  There isn't time or space to think of or remember more or look again in hope.  It's an experience to experience, not shut out.

Christ Jesus, before His Great Suffering, weeping in the Garden, was He not experiencing the here-and-now pain, too?

While Christian Hope does have an ending point to suffering, and even gives it meaning and purpose, the Evangelical tendency is to brush aside the pain of suffering, to jump ahead to the end, to skip the experience of the here-and-now.

Weep with those who weep.  They don't need you to tell them that God has a big plan for their suffering.  Just hold them and weep with them.  No need to be dismissive.

Mourning is difficult, yes, yet it's a tragic and also beautiful part of this life cycle.  Let's not skip over the pain of the here-and-now to grasp hold of the future Glory before it's here.  We abide here but a while.  Let's actually abide, hmm?