A God Who Gives Suffering Meaning

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I’ve worked as a therapist and pastoral minister for over twenty years. I’ve sat with people struggling over many different life concerns. Marriages fail, children get sick, people lose jobs, and the general disparity of living in a broken world impresses itself upon the human soul creating an ever-present cloud of depression. People suffer, and that’s just a fact of living in a broken messed up world. In fact, if one were to escape this life without suffering we might conclude they’ve never truly lived. To live a human life is to experience pain and suffering in one way or another.

Suffering is one of those troubling topics for Christians. We face the ever-present problem of theology called “The Theodicy” in which Christians must explain how a good, omnipotent, all-loving God can allow some of the most atrocious evils to occur. I’m not going to try and answer that question in this small book. That’s a question better debated by philosophers and theologians. As an academic, I’m privileged to have time to ponder such questions but as a pastor and therapist, my duty is to help people live with suffering. Yes, we will discuss the source of evil in this book but as for the question regarding why God himself allows it to permeate our world, that’s something each of us must come to terms with on our own. Christians are not Buddhists. Suffering for Christians is very real. The Buddhist may claim suffering is related to the creation of attachments by an illusory self, but the Christian recognizes suffering is a concrete experience by a real individual self. In fact, the Christian not only recognizes suffering as a very real part of the human condition, but she also recognizes it as part of the “God experience” as well. While we may not be able to come to terms with a good and powerful God allowing people to suffer in this life, we can take comfort in the fact the Christian God enters into suffering with us and for us. In the prayer used by Anglicans during Eucharist, the following is said:

“Holy and gracious Father: In your infinite love you made us for yourself; and, when we had fallen into sin and become subject to evil and death, you, in your mercy, sent Jesus Christ, your only and eternal Son, to share our human nature, to live and dies as one of us, to reconcile us to you, the God and Father of all.”

And later in the prayer as the minister is praying holding the communion bread he or she says:

“On the night he was handed over to suffering and death, our Lord Jesus Christ took bread; and when he had given thanks…….”

In both parts of this prayer, the words suffering and death are used when describing the saving acts of Christ. Christ, God incarnate suffered and died. Christianity recognizes that even God experiences suffering and death as the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ. So while we might want to chastise God for allowing us to suffer when he has the power to stop it, we certainly cannot convict him of not understanding what it means to suffer and experience death. Our God is not a distant tyrant far from the human condition but rather a God so intimately connected to the human condition that he is willing to suspend his divine powers (Philippians 2:6-11) and fully enter into human suffering. That means suffering is not merely an event humans must endure but because of the fact God has entered into it, there is meaning and purpose that can be taken from it. I’m not implying suffering is in any way “Good” only that in some way, just as all of creation, it is redeemed in the saving acts of God. There is meaning and purpose that can emerge from suffering and not merely emptiness and chaos. I’m not implying God permits us to suffer so we can create meaning and purpose, only that because God himself has entered into that condition as completely as any other human being (and perhaps more), there CAN be meaning and purpose that emerges from our pain. What that meaning and purpose is will vary from situation to situation. We must understand that God does not leave us alone in our suffering to find out what that meaning and purpose is, rather he walks with us and suffers with us in our pain drawing us to something bigger than our own situation and connecting us to the divine mystery discovered in that experience. Somehow our suffering connects us to others’ suffering and in our suffering, we can transcend the pain of this life to understand the larger experience of the whole human condition. We suffer with meaning, not in a meaningless way because Christ has given suffering a redemptive quality. To understand the pain we feel when we lose someone we love, have marriages fall apart, or experience life’s tragedies, let’s take a look at how love and suffering are connected to one another.

To understand the pain we feel when we lose someone we love, have marriages fall apart, or experience life’s tragedies, let’s take a look at how love and suffering are connected to one another through this set of BLOG posts.

Join me as I explore these topics over the next few months to explore “Why the joyful weep.”  My hope is these posts will become a source of consolation to you the reader and eventually a book that can be shared with others who need to know they do not suffer alone and that suffering can be a chance for growth and the development of wisdom.

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