I read this post yesterday by a woman who is grieving the death of her “life mate.” It was incredibly moving to read her thoughts. I wished with all my heart I could tell her that she is not alone, that she and her suffering are important, that the weight of her grief gives dignity to the one she loves. Each person is unique and their passing alters the whole world. If you mourn someone, it’s because they mattered.
There is a sense in which our suffering is compounded by the injustice of it all. Loved ones should not die of cancer; no child should have to grow up orphaned, impoverished, uneducated; countries should not be torn apart by war. As Christians we have something to say about this, and should be a part of bring God’s kingdom, his rule, to the earth. There are sick people who need to be healed, nations that need peace and justice, poverty to be eradicated.
But there is also this sense in which suffering is part of the journey. This is not the way I planned it; I did not want life to turn out this way; WHY, GOD, WHY? We rant and rail and God is big enough to handle us as we scream and cry, which is sometimes the most appropriate soundtrack to our lives. If we were in control, we wouldn’t have let this happen. However, as a wise lady once said to me, whatever made you think you were in control anyway?
We live in a society that tells us being happy and healthy is the norm. If we fail to be ‘normal’ then there is an insurance policy we should have owned, a product which can fix us, 7 easy steps to solve our problems. This attitude promotes a ‘myth that denies suffering and the sense of pain. It acts as if they should not be, and hence it devalues the experience of suffering. But this myth denies our encounter with reality’ (Illich, in Peterson, p. 140).
Alternatively, the Gospel ‘teaches us to respond to suffering as reality, not deny it as illusion, and leads us to face it with faith, not avoid it out of fear’ (Peterson p. 139). Of course, we don’t seek out suffering, nor celebrate its arrival. But we don’t deny it or devalue the experience when it shows up, as it surely will, in each of our lives.
As believers we can face suffering as reality because we know Jesus, who also suffered; who took on the entire weight of all the suffering, all the grief, all the sin and sickness for the whole world. It literally killed him. He shepherds us through our suffering as one who has already walked this road: ‘he was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief’ (Isaiah 53:3)
God the Father is also intimately acquainted with suffering. It was the slow, agonizing death of his One and Only, his perfect Son that meant he could be in relationship with the rest of his rebellious children. If you love much, you grieve much. It is the blood, sweat and tears of Jesus, that pave our way back home.
There is an old quote that says ‘everything will be ok in the end. If it’s not ok, it’s not the end.’ The reason we can face suffering with faith, is that it’s not the end of the story. The story ends in resurrection. It ends in a place where ‘there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain’ (Revelation 21:4). Everything will be ok in the end.
For now, though, our tears tell us that all is not well, everything is not ok, and so it can’t be the end. There must be more of the journey yet to travel. On our way, we are promised that those who mourn are blessed because they will be comforted, that those who grieve will be provided for, that we will never be left alone and that something beautiful can come out of the ashes of our broken lives.
‘He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted… to comfort all who mourn, to provide for those who mourn… to give bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes’ (Isaiah 61:1-3).