“God is the God of the sufferers.” – Martin Buber
“… our pain softens the shell that insulates us from the suffering of others.” – Emma Meier
After visiting a country church and hearing the young parson preach, Campbell Morgan’s wife remarked at how good the sermon was. He replied, “Yes, it was good. And it will be better after he’s suffered.”
No one wants to suffer.
All of us do.
Philo of Alexandria reportedly said, “Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”
One suffers physically, another is wracked with fears and anxieties, and a third can barely move they are so depressed.
Being fired, unemployed, behind on the bills, homeless, sick, injured, incarcerated, divorced, betrayed, cheated, displaced, victimized, abused, unwelcome, rejected … there are thousands of ways we humans suffer. Some of it is our fault, some the fault of others, some is due to circumstances.
Blame gets us nowhere. Jesus focused on relieving suffering rather than figuring out the causes.
His passion is the ultimate demonstration of altruistic love. On that Roman gibbet, God incarnate absorbed within the triune Godself all the suffering of all time and place. Our God is “a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief,” “wounded for our transgressions,” “bruised for our inequities.”
My son killed himself on my 35th birthday. The subsequent pain, fear, panic, depression, confusion, and grief was overwhelming, devastating, shattering. Everything was thrown into a dark vortex. My religiophilosophical belief system splintered like a porcelain vase hurled violently against a brick wall. Panic attacks sidelined me. Depression lasted for years.
Perhaps we cannot help but ask why. Why did God not step in and prevent this? Why did Elliott kill himself? Some suicide survivors can land on answers – mental illness, severe depression, mind-altering addiction. I could not. Elliott was brilliant, successful, social, healthy, with no hint of depression or drug use. Each time I go down the trail of who’s to blame, I land on myself. If anyone is to blame, it’s me.
Even if that self-condemnation were true, it gets me nowhere. It doesn’t help. In fact, it only adds to the pain.
I must learn to let go of needing to ask why. The question is unanswerable.
I must learn to let go of blame. It only makes matters worse.
I have to learn to love myself.
I need to live in the heart of God.
Years ago, standing, sobbing, weeping at Elliott’s grave, I felt a mystical presence that I interpreted as Jesus standing next to me, arm around my shoulder, weeping with me. Man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.
Often, God does not prevent suffering. Instead, God goes with us through the suffering. And that is enough.
Suffering brings us into the divine heart. Suffering cracks open our hearts so light can flow in and out. Suffering melts the barriers of self-centeredness and enables empathy with others. Suffering, properly processed, makes us more caring, more compassionate, less judgmental, and more accepting. Paradoxically, suffering ultimately makes us happier because it connects us with life – with the world of animals and plants (which also suffer), with our fellow humans, with the God who is the God of suffering, as Martin Buber put it.
Don’t miss the phrase “properly processed.” It is key. If suffering is not processed successfully, we wind up bitter, angry, or permanently depressed.
I have yet to meet a bereaved or suffering person who can thoroughly work through the healing process alone. It helps to have a companion who’s been through something similar. The best counselors are people who have suffered, who come with their hearts, not only with their books. It is a long, sometimes painful, process, but it is worth every step. We emerge free.