They are not, however, ultimate questions.
During a week in which we’ve all felt such shock, grief and sadness over the murder of innocents in both Clackamas, OR, and Newtown, CT, a day of scans at a cancer center begs to be kept in perspective. God’s grace is sufficient for me. I have no fear. There is nothing that I will learn tomorrow that removes me from his love. While this is also true for the families and friends who lost loved ones in senseless acts of violence this week, I hesitate to be so glib about their situations. It will take time, support from others and deep grieving before many will be able to accept that God’s love is with them and with us always. Their hearts have been torn apart. Mine bleeds with them.
One of our most difficult duties as human beings is to listen to the voices of those who suffer. Like millions of Americans, I’ve watched in amazement at the news reports on TV. The stories of the parents whose six and seven-year-old children were slaughtered are only now beginning to surface in the media. They must be heard, especially by those to whom they are closest. My own story, as I’ve told it in this blog, is one of occasional suffering, but it’s had very few moments of acute pain. I see more clearly now than ever before how gently I’ve been treated. The time I’ve been given to reflect upon my illness is itself an act of restraint on God’s part that leaves me asking, why? Why do I have literally years to tend to matters of faith, but a first-grader in a small town in Connecticut gets no such consideration?
I don’t have an answer. In an understatement of epic proportions, it’s just unfair. In human terms, there is no logic in it. It cannot be a matter of one person being more deserving than another.
What I do know is that we are all in distress, in difficulty, if not in outright suffering—just in the daily act of living. It’s the universal condition. We don’t all need MRI or PET scans to be told that something is wrong with us. Suffering co-exists with us at every point on earth and thus demands to be considered. It happens at different moments in life, takes place in different ways, assumes different dimensions, yet seems to be inseparable to man’s earth existence. I mean not just physical suffering, but also emotional and moral pain—the pain of the soul. The pain of wrestling with God over our understanding of the world and our place in it.
Can meaning be found in it? Can suffering be redemptive? Does our deep distress over civil war in Syria, drive-by shootings on Chicago street corners, the starvation of children in Sudan, or the shooting of holiday shoppers in a suburban mall get us anywhere, or should we just harden our hearts and try to move on with things?
I believe that our suffering can be redemptive and that it de facto is. I believe that it must be for those of us who believe in salvation through Jesus Christ. He gives us the answer to the question of suffering and its meaning not only by his teaching but most of all by his own suffering. He has come to live among us and knows what it means to be fully human in all its complexity and contradictions. It is through the cross of Christ that our own suffering, whatever its nature, has been redeemed. We share in his suffering and he in ours. There is supernatural power in it, and it can heal us.
God has promised that his power is made perfect in weakness, both through his and in ours. That assurance is what gets me through rough patches when I don’t feel I have the resources to make it on my own. It’s what I pray those in Connecticut receive as they stagger emotionally through the coming days of memorial services and burials, of remembrances, and of the slow return to life as they once knew it. The pain of the world is great, but greater still is God’s abiding love. May it be upon us all as we pause to consider the big questions of life and seek solace from the source of all peace.