The world feels so heavy right now.
People, families, nations. Sickness, death, evil that reaches beyond all restraint. Each of them adding weight as the world bows under the heaviness of its collective suffering.
Why, oh why, oh why do we suffer? Oh, how this age-old question haunts us.
I doubt most of the time whether I am honestly “qualified” enough to ask it myself. I often debate with myself whether my garden-variety suffering is really suffering, with my series of mostly good days, happy moments, kid smiles to assuage the tantrums, and just an overall privileged, stable life. My heart often can’t take the weight of the world and all its negativity and sorrows in contrast with my own rosy life.
But if I’m honest with myself, I’m facing my own little battle. And it’s one that gives me a slightly better glimpse of the bigger battles being waged all around me.
This summer has been, in a word, tiring.
It’s taken its physical and mental and emotional toll. My physical pain has been evermore present. The future, evermore unclear. The questions of employment and my medical treatment and necessary therapies for my children hang in the air like a thick cloud that at any moment could break to reveal sunshine, or open the floodgates and pour down rain.
It’s a tricky place to be. I look at my children and want to be so much more involved than I have been, I wish I could regain the energy and patience and state of health required to be all they need me to be. Then I look out at our world balanced precariously next to my wondrously beautiful life and I’m gutted through and through. I’m broken for those staggering under their torments, I’m baffled by the state of humanity at its worst, I’m haunted by the images and stories of families, of children (children!) falling victim to the evilest of evils in this upside-down world; I’m crushed by the thousands of nameless souls throughout our country and world whose suffering is so inescapable that they can no longer survive it.
I always find a way to get out of bed. I always find a way to push through the pain. It always passes eventually and I even get a good day in between. Even at my worst, I’m lucky enough to enjoy so many moments still filled with goodness or a reason to smile. But the more frequent the small sufferings in my own life, the more the fear and the anxiety also get to me; and some days, the suffering wins. And those days have been sneaking up on me much more often lately.
I vacillate between “why me?” and “why not me?”
On days when the pain is severe, I wonder that a diagnosis as clear as mine can continue to worsen after fifteen straight years of pain. I’m indignant that despite my access to advanced medical treatment and studies galore, I am no closer to relief, and beginning an emotional tailspin. Then I quickly wonder at myself and my selfishness: I think of all those with no medical care whatsoever, I consider how paltry my whining must seem next to the saints who endured the suffering of martyrdom, and I have to laugh at my self-pity next to the families clinging to the side of the mountain as we speak, doing their best not to starve to death. Who am I to complain?
Yet here I am, still worn and wearing thinner, without the option to be all worn out.
The cycle I go through has become like tired play in my head with its winding themes and predictable dialogue: I demand that God tell me why, I ask how I’m supposed to effectively live out my vocation with such suffering, I wonder what more I can do to help my children, I agonize over the next “right” step, I allow myself hope for what the future might hold, I give into fear of what the future might actually bring…then I serve myself a reality check as I dismiss my struggles and tell myself once again that this is nothing compared others’ suffering.
But dismiss or argue or accuse as I might at my lowest points, even when God seems silent, I know the truth. Even without formal theological training, and even without the direct answer I demand from God in regards to all of humanity’s aching question, I know deep down that the suffering does not–cannot–come from a God who is literally the definition of Love.
I know it comes from evil.
I do not understand why.
But I very clearly understand its source.
I even understand some of its intent. I know that evil wants to overtake Love. That evil wants to inflict pain and grief and destitution and suffering. I know that evil wants nothing more than to confuse us into believing its intent is opposite; I know that it will be completely unfair in its distribution of affliction and suffering across humanity, and will go to great lengths to attack us at our weakest. I know that evil loves to use our human imperfections against us, to numb us or bring about derision or anger or revenge or apathy. Whatever will trap us most easily, evil will try to do.
It seems like a total setup. An awfully lousy setup.
Still, even without that direct answer to the why–why, O God, must we suffer?!–God has set in front of us the raw, beaten, bloody sacrifice of his Son to hold up the astounding truth.
God didn’t exempt himself from the effects of evil. God himself didn’t escape from suffering. On the contrary, Christ–the King–endured the very worst form of suffering and execution the world could devise. It’s not like he was asking for it. He literally begged to be spared if at all possible. God the Son, pleading with God his Father in an agony so intense that blood seeped through his pores. Pleading while his friends fell asleep and left him to suffer alone in his agony. It’s an image so base and human that no one would deign to assign it to royalty, to associate it with the divine. But it was the reality that our God accepted. And beg though he did, he wasn’t spared the suffering. In the hours that followed it only got worse; he had more and more humiliation and suffering heaped upon him, one torture after another.
Why? Why did God let his son save others but allow so much evil to befall his son? Why did it have to happen that way? Why does any of this in our lives have to happen this way?
We still don’t know. But we know that our God understands. And we know that out of the suffering that the Son endured, God brought good. God opened the gates to heaven and saved the world. That even as evil attacked the human Face of Love and and tried to eliminate it, Love came back for us. Love survived. God won.
That’s all well and good to hold up in hindsight, of course. It’s easy to crack open thousands of years of scholarly theology and point to “God’s purpose” for the suffering of that one singular event in world history. But what about us? What about that thing we can point to right now in our life that won’t let us go? It seems we can continue to ask God what the “purpose” of our suffering is until we’re blue in the face, but we still might get not get a straight answer until we see His face.
I don’t know that any of our suffering could possibly have a point of origin in our God, despite a belief in “God’s purpose.” I don’t believe that our God who is Love could pinpoint a specific person and will that they should suffer in a certain way. Because suffering comes from the evil one, not from God. But I believe God can intervene in the evil thrust upon us, that when we give Him room to work he can reach into the storm of evil and infuse his Love, Love that can transform our experiences into something purposeful. Or help us ultimately even use them for good. I believe that even as evil works against us around the clock, God can work just as tirelessly to take what has been broken in evil and use that Love to make it new. It may be a different new than it once was, but the Great Restorer–our victorious suffering Healer with holes in his hands and feet–shows us himself that new life may shine brightest through the wounds that got us there.
Yes, God suffered
Yes. God lives.
And so, as I go about in my continued cycle of ups and downs and lots of really good days peppered with those of suffering, I can in my toughest moments look at my crucifix and remember—yes, Jesus understands my physical suffering, far more intimately than I understand and experience it. I can look at his Agony in the Garden and know that he, too, felt the all-consuming dread of the unknown; he gets my fears and anxieties… and then some. I can look at an empty cross and trust that my God will reach in when I ask him to and bring some purpose, some redemption out of this–for me, for someone else, for the good of humanity. Because I know His love for every last soul he has created is powerful enough to prick even the blackest of darkness with a pinpoint of his Love and light. He’ll literally do anything, even suffer the worst pain in the world, for a chance to give us his light.
Finally, I can look at the ones who remained standing at the foot of the cross, and begin to grasp the singular most important lesson I think I’m learning in this whole business of redemptive suffering:
We are not meant to do this alone.
We are meant to come together with our collective wounds, be they shallow or grievous, and declare the truth that yes, the wound is there; it exists. In the anguish of each other’s grief and pain and defeat, we are meant to reach out with a hand full of Love and grasp a hand that has no more strength to hold on. We are meant to sing the ancient Psalms of both praise and lament, remembering that the world has always been a broken paradox of both laughter and sorrow, praise and sacrifice–not because of us, but because of the sin that snuck in long before us. We are meant to help lift wherever we can the load of suffering that has been distributed so unfairly, so that the weight does not fall squarely on one. In the moments when our darkness lifts and we stand in the light, we are meant to seize without guilt the precious gifts of joy that Love bestows on us, because when joy coexists with grief, it becomes all the more precious. In joining together as one struggling, afflicted, limping, soul-seeking Body of Christ here on earth, in validating each other’s truth instead of hiding it, we are meant to collectively generate the kind of Love so powerful that it can raise an irreparably broken Body of Christ to new life.
I’m learning, slowly.
In my weariness, in others’ brokenness, by understanding that I shouldn’t dismiss my truth any more than I should dismiss theirs, I am learning the value of what it really means to be part of this broken body of Christ. I would still gladly trade most of the suffering that has led me here to this point, but I know a God who also asked our Father to spare him the pain. I clearly still have so much learning and growing ahead, but I know a God who literally bleeds for me so he can meet me where I am. He loves me where I am. And he promises to get me there eventually, weary days and all. So though I might trade the suffering, and though I might still be tempted to compare, I don’t know that I’d ever want to trade the beauty of some of these experiences that are leading me to this Truth.
Maybe that’s what the saints have been getting at all along.
Whatever you’re facing, I pray that you can allow yourself to acknowledge it without guilt or comparison. I hope today is extra gentle on you, and that you can feel the warmth of the Broken Healer’s Love and light on your soul.
Megan is a wife, writer, mother, faith and chocolate lover living in Colorado. She wears an Army uniform one weekend a month so she can be a Stay-at-Home-Mom the rest of the year. She blogs about it all at Positively (Im)Perfect.
This post originally appeared on Positively (Im)perfect.