Thursday, May 26, 2011

Questions about pain, suffering, and loss

I've seen a lot of loss recently. A lot of suffering too. Hundreds affected by tornadoes in Missouri and Oklahoma, just this week alone. A friend from work lost everything he had. Everything. Another family lost one child to injuries from the storm. The other was separated from his mother when the tornado hit their home and is still missing.

Things don't seem to be getting any better. In the last year, Haiti and Japan were devastated by earthquakes, Alabama was hit with the worst outbreak of tornadoes in US history, a leaking oil well at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico was finally plugged after months and months of unchallenged damage that may never be repaired- and that is just a few of the things that have happened in the last year. Looks like pain and suffering and tragedy are here to stay.

So what are we supposed to do when it happens? How are we really supposed to cope, to deal with it, especially when it hits us square in the face? Counseling from the other side of the table is easy, especially when we have verses like Romans 8:28, which remind us that God causes all things to work together for the good of those that love Him, that are called according to His purposes. It's easy to quote that. It's easy to say that, but in the moment those words are empty, and meaningless at best, when you feel as if your heart has been ripped out of your chest after loss and tragedy strikes.

I don't know if this any kind of an answer, and I don't know if there's any answer that will be sufficient. But as I think out loud with you as you are reading this, I wonder: would we know what joy is if we did not know suffering? Would we know peace if we did not know turmoil? Would we know love if we have not been hated? Would we know victory if we did not know loss? Maybe you could answer and justify a response that would say "yes", but it seems to me that at least we would not know how sweet joy is if we had not known suffering, or how precious it is to be loved if we had not experienced being unloved.

Seems to me that we come to God with some unrealistic expectations. We expect that God would allow us, a   creation who's inherent goal and joy is to satisfy oneself,  to do whatever the heck we want (which He permits), AND never have to experience any pain, suffering, loss, tragedy, or any other negative emotion from the actions of others, who only truly at their core care about themselves, and will gladly walk all over you to preserve and protect themselves and pursue whatever they fancy. We have this built in expectation that we will always be happy, and that God owes us, that He is obligated to bless us. And when that doesn't happen, we unload and let Him know.

Maybe another question: Would we know mercy if we did not know justice? Or what about grace if we did not know fairness? And if we truly know mercy and grace, would we really still complain when justice and fairness are not satisfied in our lives? It's a curious thing, how we demand the "goodness" of people's hearts to give us mercy and grace when we trespass, and are ready to play executioner at the drop of a hat when someone offends or hurts us- but that's another post...

Seems to me that we lack a proper perspective sometimes. When our perspective is that this world is all that there is, then it would seem reasonable for us to live it up and make the most of it, pursuing whatever makes us happy and scorning whatever would take that away from us. But if we are truly following Christ, having been made new, we know that this world is not our home, that this life is not all that there is. If Christ has defeated the grave and secured victory over the grave for all who are found in Him, then why do we loose so much hope when we experience defeat on the battle field? If the war has been won, then why do we loose heart if a battle is lost?  This isn't to say that there is no pain, no hurt in defeat on the battle lines, but if we aren't able to look up above the trees and see the forest, to see that Christ has conquered the grave, we will understandably drop our heads in defeat and remain defeated. But let's not loose heart, for Christ has overcome this world! We must remember that we do not live for this life, but for the One who gave His life, who gave His life so we can have eternal life with Him.

When tragedy strikes, morn over your loss. Grieve deeply, for the human heart knows that this is not the way things are supposed to be, that pain and suffering and loss are not supposed to be here. But don't grieve alone. Let the Body of Christ love you and encourage you. Let the Holy Spirit lift up your head again and wipe your tears and help you remember that He has overcome this world, that our hope is not in man, but in the God-man; Jesus the Christ. Ask the Lord to give us a heart that understands, and eyes that see. Pray to see the sorrow of life as the means of seeing the sweetness of joy and hope fulfilled in the life to come, and thank the Lord that He truly does cause all things to work together for the good of those that love Him, that are called according to His purposes.

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