Late last year, we (the HOPE team) walked side-by-side a young man and his family as he succumbed to cancer. This experience had a deep impact on my heart for many reasons. One thing I walked away with was the realization that I didn’t understand “suffering”.
As we tried to help this young man in the best ways we knew how, another staff member and I repeatedly expressed how heartbroken we felt. There were days when we would cry together, wrestling over the loss of this young life.
We had many responses to our grief. Mostly, people expressed that we “should not” be sad. This young man had a deep faith in God and he was at peace with his future. And yet, the grief, the ache would not leave my heart. I was frustrated with myself, disappointed with myself that my faith in heaven was not stronger, that I wasn’t able to feel the joy it seemed I “should” feel.
While in the States over Christmas, I found a book called, “Walking with God through Pain and Suffering”. I am about halfway through the book and it has been so helpful for my heart and my understanding. There are some thoughts in particular that he shares that have helped me find peace. I wanted to share some of those insights. Please know I am only stating these as I understand them!
Suffering is something that our culture does not seem to handle well. It seems that hardships are something to endure; to minimize, to get through as quickly as possible with minimal feelings. If we suffer, or others suffer, we want to find a reason, to justify it or even to make it disappear. We want to blame the individual, ourself or God. When someone does suffer, if they express sadness or grief, we want to fix it quickly or even avoid it altogether. We often expect a sort of stoic-ness through suffering. There should only be joy and acceptance, not tears and/or protest.
I understand much of this reaction is usually motivated by love. We don’t want to see those we love being sad. I often tell my kids that “it is okay, don’t cry” when they are sad. However, one time, one of them looked at me and said softly, “But Mama, it is NOT okay”. And they were right.
When we approach suffering this way, trying to fix, ignore and minimize, we oversimplify very real pain. This is not what we see in the Bible. The Bible is filled with laments, protests, loud cries and tears. And God doesn’t seem to mind. If anything, He seems to engage even more with His people during those times (Psalm 34:18).
The book I am reading discusses how Jesus himself wept with the people while in front of Lazarus’ grave. But why? Jesus knew Lazarus would live again in mere moments. And yet, the word used for his weeping is one of a someone expressing a deep anger in anguish. Jesus was weeping because the world is not yet as it should be. There IS death and loss and pain, and no amount of stoic-ness will change that fact.
The author quotes a Christian in the early church expressing his own grief over the death of his brother, “We have not incurred any grievous sin by our tears. Not all weeping proceeds from unbelief or weakness….The Lord also wept… He wept for all in weeping for one, I will weep for the all, in my brother.”
This perspective is one of the thoughts that has helped me find peace. It has helped me not feel guilty when I am angry over the way things are in our world. I can cry in frustration when a young life is claimed, when many young lives are claimed, and I don’t need to accept the platitudes (Proverbs 25:20) of it “being God’s will”, or “just have faith”. I can go to God Himself and wrestle, know that He is willing to engage with me. I can know that even His own Son was not at peace with the way things are now and wept in response, even as He knew with full faith what the future will bring.
I know that these thoughts raise a million more questions of theology and a million more “why’s”. Writing this post makes me feel like a young child trying to tackle quantum physics. But I needed to know that, even if there is so much I do not understand (or am in the process of understanding), it does seem that God has room for grief, anger, indignation and tears.