The Presence of God in the Midst of Suffering
I am one who has seen affliction
under the rod of God’s wrath;
he has driven and brought me
into darkness without any light;
against me alone he turns his hand,
again and again, all day long.
Lamentations 3:1-3 (NRSV)
This word from Lamentations speaks not of how we imagine the character of God but of the despair that human beings sometimes feel. Jeremiah or a prophet close to him speaks of the emotional and spiritual void following the destruction of the capital city of Jerusalem and God’s Temple which resided there. These are words which most human beings unfortunately experience in some form or fashion as none of us escape suffering unless we refuse to love.
I suppose that people who have been hurt may refuse to love others for fear of being hurt again. Ultimately, our loved ones will leave us as we pass from this life to the next. It is painful and inevitable.
But when tragedies strike, such as the recent hurricanes or earthquake, we are left reeling knowing that we could have been dealt this tragic blow but somehow escaped. The recent mass murder in Las Vegas is an unfortunate punctuation of suffering for an already hurting world.
One of the common threads of inquiry surrounding the Vegas shooting is the search for meaning. Right after it occurred, even though the shooter likely took his own life, we begin to seek out some kind of rationale. Was he connected with terrorist activity? Was he a violent person? Did he have a history of mental illness? What was his motive?
What we are trying to do is to solve the “why” behind this tragedy. Human beings like order and when someone acts irrationally, it disturbs us in profound ways. If a grudge against country music fans were somehow determined, it wouldn’t change the horrible act but it would allow our brains to cope with it more easily.
As we seek to cope with all this recent tragedy, one of the ways that is common is to disengage. We try to ignore it and hopefully it won’t touch us. When we do this, we become more akin to the priest or the Levite in Jesus’ parable than to the good Samaritan. Rather, the Christian call is to compassion. We seek to offer a helping hand to those in need - even if it is just a shoulder to cry on. This is exhausting but we do so because it is needed in a hurting world. We realize that it could just as easily be us weeping.
As we continue to pray for those suffering - as we continue to give toward those seeking recovery from natural disasters - we become a part of the resurrection story with which we view the world. We may not understand why tragedies happen but we can understand our response.
Our narrative fits with the author of Lamentations who moves from despair to hope later in the chapter:
I called on your name, O Lord,
from the depths of the pit;
you heard my plea, “Do not close your ear
to my cry for help, but give me relief!”
You came near when I called on you;
you said, “Do not fear!”
You have taken up my cause, O Lord,
you have redeemed my life.
Lamentations 3:55-58 (NRSV)
Check out Sam’s Blog here: http://precedinggrace.blogspot.com.