My heart breaks for all the family and friends who said goodbye to loved ones during the recent rash of tornadoes. For the mom of eight children, who is now a widow with six children. The unimaginable has happened and three caskets were lined up for final good-byes.
The husband who lived, but his bride who will no longer greet him in the morning with a cup of coffee and a smile.
For the mother who received a farewell text from her son before the tornado hit.
For the missing daughters in Nigeria while mothers and fathers weep in agony while they wait for help, or news of their beautiful daughters.
For the hundreds of Korean families who won’t get to see their children graduate, or marry, or have children of their own.
Or cancer, car accidents, suicide, old age, crippling disease, kidnapping, human trafficking, gendercide, infant loss, miscarriage, birth defects, TBI’s, war, famine, etc…
Far too challenging a task to post in one blog; theologians have wrestled with this since the beginning of time. Job’s friends had plenty of ideas. The unfortunate thing is that they voiced them, as happens all too often within religious circles. It works like this – if evil and suffering is a real problem, and I am uncomfortable with the notion of a God that allows evil and suffering, I will do one of several things – First, I will become a prosperity gospel, word of faith kind of person (been there, done that) and turn my eyes away from the real problem of suffering, believing that if I have enough “faith” only good will follow me. Or, I will become agnostic or atheist so bad things are all just part of the evolutionary and scientific cycle and God is just a fictional cosmic character for weak-minded people who need to find an answer to suffering. Or maybe I will just overall ignore the problem and it will go away, bury it deep, even my own suffering.
There is a third alternative and one that we really need to address – we will start talking about suffering in the church. We will start educating people about suffering and evil and pain, and how to address it and help others. Oh, I know it is happening in many healthy churches, but it is not the larger part of evangelical circles. Suffering often equates with mental health as well, and we more often than not skirt mental health issues. Grief, loss, trauma – all the thing the people are experiencing in their losses are part of mental health, often leading into physical health challenges. It’s messy, it’s ugly, it’s difficult to define or be around. It makes us uncomfortable. We don’t mind addressing physical ailments, but not the mental health. And not the trauma or suffering that may have caused the physical or mental anguish.
Most of us go on about our daily lives and don’t stop to think about the intense amount of sadness going on in the world. We can’t dwell on it or it becomes an issue of our own mental health. But we need to address it. We need to think about it. It is our next door neighbor, our family member, our co-worker – it is not happening “over there” it is happening every day right here. And how we address it is the foundation of how we love others as Christ does. It is the foundation of compassion.
You can’t reflect the love of Christ to someone who is in pain, if you are afraid of their pain.
I keep going back to 2 Cor. 4:8-10 “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us, We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in [us].”
We all need a theology of suffering in our lives – a theodicy to stay as bright lights shining to others when the sky falls. We need to be able to stand strong amid the darkness of agony and reflect hope, even when we don’t have the answers – especially when we don’t have the answers.
We don’t have all the answers, but we have the God who IS the answer.
Next blog, I’ll post some recommended reading, video, and scripture texts for personal study.