Our church has a sister church in Africa, and my pastor was asking the pastor there what he thought after his recent visit to America. Oh it’s glorious, he said. Americans are full of excess and riches, but there was this one tiny thing. . .
We lack a theology of suffering. It’s not that Americans don’t suffer. We might not watch feces float down the street or feed only rice to our children and we are not forced to hide from revolutionary warriors on a bloody stretch toward hell. But we still have pain.
Men are sitting in offices right this minute ridden with anxiety and depression and shame. Women are barely breathing and sneaking gin and wondering why they can’t love their own offspring. Just one moment ago someone was eating a turkey sandwich and then they got into a car wreck or came down with lung cancer and their life is forever changed. People get laid off and laid in the ground and lay with the wrong person at the wrong time. And yet what do we do about it? Do we see it as part of the yin and the yang, like the seasons or opposites on the continuum of energy or the way one cannot live without the other?
At best, I think our society feels like suffering is just an unfortunate inconvenience that in time will improve, like divorce sucks or cancer sucks and it’s an excuse to buy a card with a little picture of a steaming cup of tea and a statement about coping skills. At worst, we feel suffering as an indication that God is absent or that faith isn’t real and provides a perfect excuse to be angry and bitter at the hand we’re dealt.
But are we capable of recognizing that suffering is a necessary part of things? Not just because the Bible says it or because we all love to be martyrs and wallow in self-pity, jealous of those who seem to escape its grasp, but because it’s important to have both sides in our life to make it rich and full?
Our life cycle on this planet full of death and eating young and dying old and road kill and global warming and bliss and mountaintops and sleeping children who take your breath away and doldrums and laundry and shock and laughter and Tuesday taco nights and moments that hurt so bad your whole body burns. And it doesn’t come in any form of natural order, like well this is a sucky Winter, but alas – Spring is comin. It’s all jumbled up like dancing bingo balls in a hopper. Good, good, good. Oh crap. Really really bad.
But without the trip through the dark there is no blessing of lightness. Without the bleeding and the dying and vinegar on our lips, there is no rising from the dead. When at times the bad hits long and hard, and when you just want to scream to the sky to quit with the freaking hail and the torrential wall of hurt, remember that when the sun shines again you will rest more soundly. You will hear music with new ears, and feel love with a fresh heartbeat, and have the benefit of one who has aged and grown up with both fear and grace, hate and apathy, and the yin and the yang will balance. One day, in the not-so-distant future, all those bouncing balls will settle.
Only then will we see the fullness of God’s restoration, and have a true appreciation for opposites, and know in our hearts that despite the long heavy winter, Spring will eventually come again. Thank God for suffering, and perspective, and for valleys and mountains alike. It gives us an insight into true perseverance – the long haul – and provides us with a modicum of hope.
Yes, the buoyant saplings of Spring will someday come again. It just may be a while, with a few scorching summers in between.
(three w’s): flickr.com/photos/raymaclean/4283897275/sizes/m/in/photolist-7wy6pR-5Lb6Zr-757xF9-f8hQzE-4jzRSF-4h2wLe-dFBxb3-6ujUy8-9g3E1T-dMHAMY-8LLZA1-951YsT-bTBg8-c4MZhY-9iUKCp-b1EQNg-aLCEQt-dBgC7p-5LfmBC-8jXH6G-9uy2fw-7AMsTi-7yuR56-aPsrgX-6SXHK9-8ZMuKm-asmYq8-52fHX7-azfsHf-egqXyX-dVB9Dv-8ay91y-6ujUGM-e7Aym4-4sS58x-6te1-8akjeS-arbis-7AMsTR-HCexn-4h6zTf-pruhx-ek4Mw-97WSHi-8ZGiB7-vzH3G-55ZnMm-eDjvKi-fMmZN-7QAYtY-6ed32D/