Monday, March 25, 2013

Suffering: Voices from a different vantage point

A while back Charles, tweetably, wrote to his friend:
"There seems to me to be too much misery in the world."
And from the pain he reasoned away from god. Martin Luther argued that we might well be expected to do that. If we work from our situation its natural enough to think that there is no god, or that any god there is is evil. And in the darkness Charles Darwin despaired as his daughter died.

Darwin's story has left ripples in all our stories - yet where does a godless view leave us? Grasping, gasping:
  • "Pitiless indifference!" cries the former professor of public science. Yet who can be indifferent to evil. Indifference is the opposite of love. It's neat to say there is no evil and there is no pain, but no one really believes that. The Dalai Lama might want to do away with all desire but he still fights for the liberty of his people... 
  • "Karma!" cried the England manager and the Soap Opera stalwart. I remember reincarnation sounding cool in a Religious Education classroom as a teenager. And it does for the innocent, the optimistic - for the one whose life has no pain. But, for those who suffer it makes it their own fault. Hoddle got fired.
  • "Positive thinking will make it better!" cried another voice with a gleam in its eye. Another well meaning friend unwittingly saying: try harder, it's your fault. Christians do the same when they say - "if you have enough faith..." Mustard Seed. Attempted pastoral care becomes an accidental punch in the face. 
I don't, and don't mean to, demean the desire of my friends for my restoration - their presence, their prayers, their positivity, their company, their compassion, their care are priceless, glimmers of the true light. And so, with them, I come back to Jesus who knows the meaning of pain and suffering more than anyone.
  • Here is the one whose life let's me admit that it seems senseless. That it feels pitiless. "Meaningless!" weeps Great David's Son. There is too much misery. I have questions that don't always have (or need) answers and he lets me ask them. Not to the sky but in community and to community. Repeatedly. 
  • Here is one who doesn't make it all my fault. At times I'm the architect of my own suffering, but rarely.  There's not often much - anything -  that could've been done differently. Besides, we are where we are, and there should still be care for those who do get themselves into trouble.
  • Here is the one who says that evil gets what it deserves - and people like me who are no better are invited into life. All history has to pass through the moment of Jesus' death.
  • Here is the one who gives room for the desire for things to be better. Who doesn't quash my hope. Whose story is too gritty for trite answers. Who ensures that the light still overcomes the darkness but doesn't pretend that there aren't dark clouds in the sky. And he knows what its like to be under a dark sky. And he frees me from living for health and happy days - the worship of which leaves the pain feeling doubly worse.
Jesus stops me reasoning from my own angle. Rather, with anguished Martin Luther, Jesus counsels us to consider the view from the vantage point of The Cross. Hear the God who suffered with and for us speaks into our suffering.
"In times of peace or troubled seas, the cross, his blood, my liberty." 
(Lyric, Hear the Sound, Freedom Bath + Bristol)
Hear the sound in the middle of it all. A voice crying from the wilderness in the middle of the room. The friend who lives with ongoing pain and yet believes that there is life for others. Such voices have tenderness and reality that can't be faked and wont be easily ignored. Voices that acknowledge that the world is sadder than we realised. And that there is more hope too.
  • The world seen from the cross of Jesus looks different. 
  • The word heard from the cross of Jesus sounds different. 
Sadder, deeper, richer, darker.

Have a look at the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby talking about the death of his young daughter, 10 mins into this iPlayer programme (available UK until 31 March 2013). 


  1. An illuminating and faith-building post, especially on this Easter weekend. Thank you.