Simone Weil wrote, “The extreme greatness of Christianity lies in the fact that it does not seek a supernatural remedy for suffering, but a supernatural use for it.” (Gravity and Grace)
Archives For Suffering
On vacation, I was getting ready to add some resources to the sermon on the Tough Questions of ‘Suffering’ when the Boston Marathon bombing tragedy hit the news. The question sadly rages again as we groan and weep and pray.
Here are some important resources from the viewpoint of our Christian worldview:
Some books I often recommend:
Philip Yancey has written extensively on this issue. Where is God When It Hurts is still among the best.
Tim Keller’s book covers several tough questions: The Reason For God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism.
C. S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain is a classic and helpful as ever.
Christopher Wright has written The God I Don’t Understand: Reflections on Tough Questions of Faith, that has a helpful study guide.
Finally, David Bentley Hart, editorial writer for First Things, wrote this article in 2008 at the time of the Asian Tsunami. It is not easy vocabulary but worth the work. One of his statements is rich with insight: “…(our faith) has set us free from optimism, and taught us hope instead.”
Tsunami and Theodicy
No one, no matter how great the scope of his imagination, should be able easily to absorb the immensity of the catastrophe that struck the Asian rim of the Indian Ocean and the coast of Somalia on the second day of Christmas this past year; nor would it be quite human to fail, in its wake, to feel some measure of spontaneous resentment towards God, fate, natura naturans, or whatever other force one imagines governs the intricate web of cosmic causality. But, once one’s indignation at the callousness of the universe begins to subside, it is worth recalling that nothing that occurred that day or in the days that followed told us anything about the nature of finite existence of which we were not already entirely aware. Continue Reading…
A Psalm and a poem by Wendell Berry in the aftermath of the Newtown tragedy.
from Psalm 5 (NIV)
Listen to my words, Lord, consider my lament.
Hear my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray.
In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice;
in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.
For you are not a God who is pleased with wickedness;
with you, evil people are not welcome.
The arrogant cannot stand in your presence.
You hate all who do wrong; you destroy those who tell lies.
The bloodthirsty and deceitful you, Lord , detest.
But I, by your great love, can come into your house;
in reverence I bow down toward your holy temple.
Lead me, Lord , in your righteousness because of my enemies—
make your way straight before me.
But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy.
Spread your protection over them,
that those who love your name may rejoice in you.
Surely, Lord , you bless the righteous;
you surround them with your favor as with a shield. (Psalm 5:1-12 NIV)
The Peace of Wild Things, Wendell Berry
When despair grows in me
and I wake in the middle of the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Poetry has a way of capturing what can’t be easily put into words. Here are two poems that give voice to the voiceless children of poverty; children loved by Jesus. One is by a poet, the late Anne Porter. The second is by one of our church elders, who doesn’t often write poetry, but was moved to verse after his second trip to South Sudan.
A FAMINE CHILD, Anne Porter (see her bio)
You had no food today
And may have none tomorrow
Child whose ribs are showing
Under your dark skin
Unwilling to be wounded
By the sight
Of so unjust a hunger
Or to confront the anger
Of the Lord who made you
We look away
We turn away our faces.
African Kids, Mike Galdonik
Why should I care?
They’re over there.
Why should I care?
They’re just a bunch of kids.
They’re far away,
I don’t have to see them.
So what, they don’t have a home.
So what, they didn’t eat today.
So what, they don’t have a father to sing them a song.
So what, they don’t have a mother to love them.
So what, there’s a sick girl…
is she alive any more?
They’re over there,
why should I care?
They’re over there,
but they’re in my mind.
Did God put them there?
But they’re over there.
Did God put this tear in my eye?
They’re over there,
why should I care?
They’re over there…
God put them there.
See here, to learn more about Covenant Kids Congo, our denomination-wide movement for child sponsorship through World Vision. Go to our Christ Church website to listen to the teaching at Christ Church on “Jesus Loves the Little Children of the World.”
Adam Zagajewski, is one of several great Polish and Russian poets who have written and lived courageously pushing back the darkness. The New Yorker printed this poem right after the 9/11 attack. He uses “praise” like so many poets over the centuries in a way that helps us hold onto hope when the fallen world would tumble us over the cliff of despair. It’s not praising evil or the “bare world,” but praising in spite of the broken world.
Try to praise the mutilated world
Remember June’s long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of wine, the dew.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You’ve seen the refugees heading nowhere,
you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the gray feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
From the issue of September 24, 2001
Poem translated by Clare Cavanaugh, C.K. Williams and Renata Gorczynski published in Without End – New and Selected Poems, 2002.
Here is a commentary and reflection on this poem and biographical info by Richard Osler.
We not only suffer and often have compassion on others who suffer, but we also suffer from what Scott Cairns calls “the disturbing pieties that swirl about in the aftermath of suffering and loss, most of which strike me as being, at best, the unfortunate hybrids of good intentions and poor theology.” (The End of Suffering)
The biblical book of Job helps to answer some poor theology. (Examples are in the book itself – in the speeches of Job’s friends! The Bible contains or rather records some bad theology!) Job is the antidote, e.g., to the ‘health and wealth’ Gospel and any other system that wants to contain and control God.
In Narnian words, the Lion (the King) “is not safe…but He’s GOOD!” (Click here for the background and theology of C.S. Lewis Chronicles of Narnia on this point.)
The only New Testament reference to Job focuses our attention on God’s goodness and purpose, and on Job’s endurance:
“Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.”
QUESTION FOR DISCUSSION: What struggles with suffering do you wrestle with? What helps you to ‘make sense’ of suffering?
Each second Sunday in November is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. The recent attack in a Baghdad church is a brutal reminder that there have been more religious persecution deaths in recent decades than ever in history! Here is the update from Open Doors.
Two Sundays ago, as faithful Christian believers gathered at church in Baghdad to worship, Al-Qaeda attacked and took about 120 worshipers hostage, beat and killed three priests, and detonated explosives moments before Iraqi security forces stormed the church in a rescue attempt. At least 64 people, mostly worshipers ––including a 3-year-old–– were massacred and an estimated 300 wounded….. Al-Qaeda’s Iraq splinter group, was responsible for the attack and threatened more attacks against Christian centers and organizations. Here is a video report.
1. A wonderful short article by Al Janssen called The Persecuted Church Taught Me to Pray.
2. A major paper from the 2004 Lausanne Meetings in Thailand that is a comprehensive presentation of the issue from a biblical, historical, contextual, and advocacy perspective.
I’ll close with a quote from Janssen’s article:
The persecuted Church needs our prayers. But we also need their example. Often, they have told me that they pray for the Western Church—that we will be faithful to Christ in the midst of our materialism and the numerous temptations of our culture. We need their prayers, not least because they need for us to be strong in our faith in order to stand with them. Together we are one body—suffering together and rejoicing together.
O Christ our God, upon fulfilling Your appointed work
for our sake, You ascended in Glory,
uniting the earthly with the heavenly….
and cried out to those who love You,
“I am with you and no one is against you.”
(ancient hymn for the Feast of the Ascension)
“Out of control!” It’s a phrase I hear applied to a lot of things lately. From the mundane to the apocalyptic. From toddlers in the supermarket to the economy to volcanos.
One of the tensions we were discussing recently in our sermon planning meeting was the way in which words like “God is in charge” can sound pretty empty when we’re experiencing the messes all around us (or in us!)
Krista Tippett of “Speaking of Faith” recently interviewed Desmond Tutu – Anglican bishop, Nobel laureate, and the leader of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in post-Apartheid South Africa. Although the work has been heart- wrenching and exhausting, Tutu speaks out of deep faith in the reality of God and His Word.
This same long, indeed biblical, view of time animates Desmond Tutu’s lifelong insistence that “God is in charge.” He believes as passionately now as he did decades ago that evil, injustice, and suffering will not have the last word. Though he does, he jokes, often ask God if he would please make it a little more obvious that He is in charge.
One of the seemingly ‘not obvious,’ but none-the-less real ways of God is revealed in Jesus’ Ascension (marking the 40th day after Easter). Jesus, after his life and death and resurrection, has been exalted as the world’s true Lord. Continue Reading…
Thomas Merton – Trappist Monk and prolific author (1915-1968) wrote a book of reflections on the spiritual life called No Man Is An Island. It’s the kind of book where you can read a few pages and it takes hours to digest. My Monday off was Merton day. My reading tied in with our current series, I am the Church and Sunday’s teaching on Connecting with God – our call to maturity as individuals and a church.
Merton makes a distinction between what he calls physical evil (suffering) and moral evil (always involving sin). He says physical evil is only to be regarded as real evil insofar as it moves us toward sin. Here’s an excerpt:
Physical evil has no power to penetrate beneath the surface of our being. It can touch our flesh, our mind, our sensibility. It cannot harm our spirit without the work of that other evil which is sin. If we suffer courageously, quietly, unselfishly, peacefully, the things that wreck our outer being only perfect us within, and make us…more truly ourselves because they enable us to fulfill our destiny in Christ (Romans, chapter 8?)…and when they come we should receive them with gratitude and joy. (James, chapter 1?)
The Christian…knows the peace of one who has conquered everything. Why is this? Because Christianity is Christ living in us, and Christ has conquered everything. Furthermore, He has united us to one another in Himself. We all live together in the power of His death which overcame death. We neither suffer alone nor conquer alone…In Him we are inseparable: therefore we are free to be fruitfully alone whenever we please, because wherever we go, whatever we suffer, whatever happens to us, we are united with those we love in Him because we are united with Him. His love is so much stronger than death that the death of a Christian is a kind of triumph. (pp. 90-91)
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. (Romans 8:19)