Suffering comes in many sizes, ages, shapes, weights, degrees, educations, and cultures. He doesn’t play favorites or care about our economic or social status. It doesn’t matter if we are religious – or if we shake our fist at the sky in derision. Often he visits without notice and leaves abruptly; sometimes he chooses to stay with us for a long duration. Suffering is the great equalizer.
Suffering masks the presence of what is real.
“Let me tell you why you’re here. You’re here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad… You can feel it when you go to work… when you go to church…when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.”
To blind us from the truth of God’s love.
There isn’t a cure for suffering, because once you walk alongside him, he changes you forever; but there is an antidote – “something that prevents or counteracts injurious or unwanted effects.”
The other night someone asked me what I do, and after discussing family and school, my ministry as a chaplain came up. I mentioned how it is beyond words for me to describe what happens when a person finds hope and healing in their suffering. This led the conversation onto a theological path that I had no intentions of following. Sometimes once we get a foot on that path, it is difficult to change the direction.
The person I was speaking to said they had never experienced suffering. I chose not to tell my story. The simplest of explanations were irrelevant as I found myself staying focused on the One who rescued me. Past theological perspectives swirled quietly around and tried to pull me down into an abyss of PTSD, judgement, and questions of “Why?” The thoughts and images fought for a place in my mind as I smiled attentively, and listened to the voice the Holy Spirit resounding more loudly, “It is finished. That includes you. Never ever forget His great love.”
Ten years ago it would have crippled me. Seven years ago I would have continue to chase the demons of why God had purposed to drive me through the tunnels of suffering which led to death, confusion, chaos, and hopelessness. Five years ago I would have rambled my defense, all the while hearing the fragmented voices of judgment questioning if I had done something horribly wrong – wondering if there was something horribly wrong with me.
God’s love is the antidote to the “unwanted effects” of suffering.
God is love.
When someone is walking with suffering, Love takes them by the hand and leads the way through the murky depths. Love bandages the wounds and feeds the soul. Theology gets replaced by mercy, doctrine is put aside for compassionate acts, self-ambition is buried, and the law is drowned by the fountains of grace.
“Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. ‘Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?’
He answered, ‘What’s written in God’s Law? How do you interpret it?’
He said, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.”
‘Good answer!’ said Jesus. ‘Do it and you’ll live.’
Looking for a loophole, he asked, ‘And just how would you define ‘neighbor’?’
Jesus answered by telling a story. ‘There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man.
A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I’ll pay you on my way back.’
‘What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?’
‘The one who treated him kindly,’ the religion scholar responded.
Jesus said, ‘Go and do the same.”’ Luke 10:25-37 The Message
We can only reveal to others what we have embraced for ourselves.
It was three o’clock in the afternoon one day last week, and I hadn’t eaten yet. I knew there was little in the house so I drove through a food chain to pick up soup and salad for myself, and a brownie for my son who had just joined me. As I left the take out window and rounded a corner, he was there holding a sign, “Homeless.” I stopped next to him and prompted my son to ask him, “Have you eaten yet?” He said he hadn’t. We quickly handed him the bag of hot soup, salad, and a water bottle and he replied, “Thank you. God bless you.” As we pulled away I looked at Sam and laughed, “Darn, I’m hungry.” Immediately the Lord spoke to my heart and I said, “Sam, it was so easy to give him a bag of food, but what we didn’t do was give him our love. If we see him again, we need to take the time to invite him inside the restaurant for a meal, and learn about his life.”
Dave was waiting in line at a Piano guys concert with Sam, birthday gifts to the two of them from our daughter, when he gave his last ten dollars to homeless vet to catch the train. As he watched him walk away, he questioned if they could have done more.
We only lived a portion of the Good Samaritan’s love. It was within my means to walk beside the homeless man, and possibly bandage some wounds. Even if just for a brief moment. What would it have meant instead of ten dollars, to drive him to N.Y.C. and in doing so, maybe change a life by an act of Love.
Last night in a powerful Lenten message of love and suffering, my brother in Christ gave an example, “Ever notice how everyone who gets a flat tire can laugh about it a week or a month later? She shorter the distance between the flat and the laugh, the healthier the body, the keener the mind, the stronger the spirit.” He expounded upon the love of God expressed to others in their suffering. He has been there, and love won.
We are called to stop and help with the heavy burdens of life’s tires, not to drive by and call a tow truck, or even hand out tools. We are to help restore the laugh.
The words of others from varying backgrounds – justice, judgment, forgiveness, or deliverance no longer hold any ground over the actions of Love. What a powerful, irreversible, and life changing moment takes root when the love of God and others, provides the antidote. The unwanted effects of suffering become the channel by which our own love is deepened, restored, and extended to others.
Paul said in Romans 11:33,
“Have you ever come on anything quite like this extravagant generosity of God, this deep, deep wisdom? It’s way over our heads. We’ll never figure it out.”
Is there anyone around who can explain God?
Anyone smart enough to tell him what to do?
Anyone who has done him such a huge favor
that God has to ask his advice?
Everything comes from him;
Everything happens through him;
Everything ends up in him.
Always glory! Always praise!
Yes. Yes. Yes.”
I learned during my conversations the other night that flat tires no longer phase me. My laugh comes within hours, even moments.
Love is winning.
God grant us the grace to love.