Christians are not spared heartache and difficult times, but we have a God who shared (and still shares) directly in human suffering.
Say it! Rant at God. Tell Him you’re mad.
Unleash the anger you didn’t know you had.
Faith should help, but now it’s hanging by a thread;
Friends speak clumsy words that are easier left unsaid.
Empty. Bereft. Scared by a diagnosis.
Raw emotion lets guilt seep in by osmosis.
In a heartbeat, your known world turns to dross.
No-one feels your pain or comprehends your loss.
God only knows! He went through it on the cross.
One of the most difficult questions we face as Christians is when friends contract serious illnesses or even die prematurely – often despite the earnest prayers of many people. Sometimes they have endured undue physical and mental distress, and usually they are thoroughly nice and decent people. And, of course, their families have suffered and perhaps been left in difficult circumstances.
Plenty has been written about the problem of suffering. It began, as Christians know, when sin entered the world through human rebellion in the Garden of Eden. Christian wisdom assures us that things would make more sense if we could see the whole picture rather than just the individual tragedy. Poems about “Footprints” and “threads of silver and gold in the tapestry” spring to mind. And we know that heaven awaits where we will be free from suffering.
I know the theory, but in honesty it can still leave me feeling frustrated, and it doesn’t help me say useful things to people in distress.
I am greatly reassured to know that people have always felt like this. Daring to be angry with God, daring to question why bad things happen to good people, is not just something that started during the Enlightenment. The oldest books in the Bible – Job and Genesis – square up to this most difficult issue in no uncertain fashion.
For most cultures throughout most of history, woman’s blessing has been in her children and man’s regard has been in his work. So why were childbirth and work – hard physical work in the blazing sun regardless of injury or illness – associated with so much pain? Why was Job, the most righteous and highly regarded of men, singled out for so much tragedy and illness? Scripture gives convincing answers, of course. But what helps me even more is knowing that people have struggled with this problem ever since they had an awareness of a just and loving God.
Theology is useful. But it’s also useful to know that God realises we get angry with apparent unfairness. We struggle with faith. We ask “why”? Gradually, with the passage of time, God’s promises and assurances start to seem real again. But there is a period of rawness when sometimes words fail, and only supportive, faithful companionship will help.
As always, other saints have been there before us.
(The Suffering acrostic appears on my Old Testament: History, Law and Poetry page).