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Suffering Love

Thursday, October 18th, 2018

Suffering: Week 1

Suffering Love
Thursday, October 18, 2018

I know that this too is part of life, and somewhere there is something inside me that will never desert me again. —Etty Hillesum [1]

In his book When Bad Things Happen to Good People, Rabbi Harold Kushner dispels a common myth about suffering and helps us see our way through intense pain:

The conventional explanation, that God sends us the burden because [God] knows that we are strong enough to handle it, has it all wrong. Fate, not God, sends us the problem. When we try to deal with it, we find out that we are not strong. We are weak; we get tired, we get angry, overwhelmed. . . . But when we reach the limits of our own strength and courage, something unexpected happens. We find reinforcement coming from a source outside of ourselves. And in the knowledge that we are not alone, that God is on our side, we manage to go on. . . .

Like Jacob in the Bible [Genesis 32], like every one of us at one time or another, you faced a scary situation, prayed for help, and found out that you were a lot stronger, and a lot better able to handle it, than you ever would have thought you were. In your desperation, you opened your heart in prayer, and what happened? You didn’t get a miracle to avert a tragedy. But you discovered people around you, and God beside you, and strength within you to help you survive the tragedy. I offer that as an example of a prayer being answered. [2]

Many people rightly question how there can be a good God or a just God in the presence of so much evil and suffering in the world—about which God appears to do nothing. Exactly how is God loving and sustaining what God created? That is our dilemma.

I believe—if I am to believe Jesus—that God is suffering love. If we are created in God’s image, and if there is so much suffering in the world, then God must also be suffering. How else can we understand the revelation of the cross? Why else would the central Christian logo be a naked, bleeding, suffering divine-human being?

Many of the happiest and most peaceful people I know love “a crucified God” who walks with crucified people, and thus reveals and redeems their plight as God’s own. For them, Jesus is not observing human suffering from a distance; he is somehow at the center of human suffering, with us and for us. He includes our suffering in the co-redemption of the world, as “all creation groans in one great act of giving birth” (Romans 8:22). Is this possible? Could it be true that we “make up in our own bodies all that still has to be undergone for the sake of the Whole Body” (Colossians 1:24)? Are we somehow partners with the Divine? At our best, we surely must be. But our rational minds will never fully surrender to this mystery until our minds are led by our soul and our spirit.

References:
[1] Etty Hillesum, An Interrupted Life: The Diaries, 19411943 and Letters from Westerbork, trans. Arnold J. Pomerans (Henry Holt and Company: 1996), 153.

[2] Harold S. Kushner, When Bad Things Happen to Good People (Avon Books: 1983), 129, 131.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, A Spring Within Us: A Book of Daily Meditations (CAC Publishing: 2016), 120.

Image credit: Tunnel, Anton Atanasov.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The path of descent is the path of transformation. Darkness, failure, relapse, death, and woundedness are our primary teachers. —Richard Rohr
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