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Thursday, April 11, 2019

Suffering Lab Work

Scott was asked to do an afternoon seminar for the Serge Apprentices on the topic of suffering. Probably not anyone's favorite, but one that the church neglects to our peril. The world is broken, horrible things happen, and if we don't have a framework to bring faith into reality, people are left bitter or disillusioned.  I just read The Girl Who Smiled Beads, a true story of a Rwandan genocide survivor, and while the book was gripping, articulate, honest, worth reading . . . it also made me very sad. The author really had no one in her life to help her deal with the trauma she experienced at a young age, and no one to make sense of good and evil, and she is still grappling to find her identity and peace. Silence, she writes, does not help. The church can lead in practicing what Michael Card calls "the lost language of lament" in his book Sacred Sorrow.  Scott shared the story of our friend Jonah's death, talked about the path of the cross, the nearness of God in our sorrows, read some passages that have been meaningful to us, asked challenging questions, and ended with having the group each write their own laments.

Then we had dinner together, including a cabbage salad that turned out to be laden with dysentery-causing bacteria.  Within 8 hours some of us were violently ill, and by 12 hours almost everyone who had touched the salad (6 team mates out of 7) was pouring out both ends shall we say, shaking with chills, spiking fevers.  That was 3 days ago, and we are only just beginning to be able to sit up and spend three consecutive hours out of the bathroom.

We promise, this was not the plan for a post-lecture practical lab on suffering.

One of Scott's questions in his seminar was, do you think that all suffering is potentially sanctifying? I think we all said yes, but I confess that most of the last three days I've been discouraged, wiped out, seeing only the pain and not the glory.  Being drained physically makes everything look more bleak--the lack of electricity say, or the parts of the culture that we find hard. So I thought about the question lying in my bed. Is this just random evil, or is God still at work?

We're all going to recover.  Some work will never get done that was supposed to happen . . . . but even dysentery x 6 is minor in the scheme of suffering that surrounds us.  But if your theology doesn't apply when you're up every 30 minutes in the middle of the night, then it's not going to apply when you're with the next dying child. The world is disordered and pathogens spread and harm our bodies. This is wrong. But God has taken the very effects of the Fall, ultimately death, and turned death into the means of redemption. We have to hold onto both truths: dysentery stinks, but God can mysteriously bring some good in our bodies and souls.  If you only say "dysentery stinks", then the world becomes a broken desert of horrors that we try to avoid, and complain about.  If you only say "God is good and unfathomable" then the sufferer feels unseen and unimportant.  We have to proclaim both.

That's why lament is spiritual, and healthy.  I am sad that we all had 3 days of our lives pretty much erased. That we spent hours in pain. That we caused more work to fall on others (so thankful for the few left standing who were gracious!). That so many people in this place suffer from lack of hygiene. And at the same time, we turn those cares to God and acknowledge God is even more broken by suffering than we are, so much so that he came to earth to suffer with and for us and break the hold of evil forever.

Easter is inching closer.  

1 comment:

Ed said...

I thought of this as I read your post... from A Long Obedience in the Same Direction...One of the most interesting and remarkable things Christians learn is that laughter does not exclude weeping. Christian joy is not an escape from sorrow. Pain and hardship still come, but they are unable to drive out the happiness of the redeemed.