I have been spending some time as of late with some folks who are going through some very tough times – grief, loss and pain are never easy to face. Faith in the face of suffering is considered an absurdity by some and a life-line by others. We know the surface answers that are meant, more often than not, to make the speaker and not the one going through the time of loss, fee better. “It was God’s will…” “God needed another angel in heaven…” “Everything happens for a reason…” “I don’t know why God is doing this to you, but there must be a reason for it that you’ll see later…” and the list could go on. This is not new to us, by the way. Check out the book of Job some time for an ancient Hebrew version of these and other reasons that seek to make things tidy and easy to understand.
The truth is this: sometimes awful things happen. They happen because people, using their freedom, choose to abuse, humiliate, mis-treat and destroy others. They happen because of root causes such as greed, fear and hatred. They happen because of the pain and brokenness that come from addiction, domestic violence, crushing poverty and ideologies that destroy the worth of individuals. And, they happen for no reason we can discern – sickness, disease, broken minds and souls and bodies… cells that seek to destroy healthy organs and tissues growing in our bodies. Natural disasters and terrible accidents. One response to these and so many other tragedies is to try to discern why a loving God would do such things or allow such things. Another response is to see faith as the gift of a God who loves us, suffers with us, and can help us to see and know and live the transformation that is ours through Christ: new life from death, hope from despair, life from death.
So, when I am with folks in those times of pain and suffering and loss, I make a conscious decision not to offer easy answers or explanations. Rather, I offer my presence, and prayer, and promises of support. I ask for God’s love and care in that situation, in that person’s life, in that time of pain. I believe that God can and does enter our human lives and the situations in which we find ourselves. Sometimes miracles happen – unexplainable cures, incredible changes in peoples’ lives that lead them to new beginnings and healing, and reversals of situations that were once all darkness and now filled with light. More often than not, at least in my experience, the miracles are more mundane, more ordinary and very sacred. We call out to God, we admit that we’re sinking and that we need His love, and we persist in hope, believing that God’s love and redemption can visit and dwell in these places we’d rather not have entered.
“In the shipwreck of this present life sustain me, I beseech thee, by the plank of prayer, that, since my own weight sinks me down, the hand of thy merit may raise me up.” -St. Gregory the Great