Suffering, Part 4 of 5

The fourth in a series of reflections on one of the chiefest themes of the Lenten season and of life

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Concerning suffering’s capacity to yield wisdom, I believe that our griefs or miseries can sharpen our sensitivity to the pain of others. Yes, suffering can make us bitter and callous. Yet it is our human capacity to mine our memory’s store that allows us not to forget (that compels us to remember) our suffering. And, from my own experience and that of others known to me, I have found that when I, when we reflect on our own suffering, not morbidly, but rather honestly, our compassion (com, with + passion, suffering) can deepen for others. And compassion can open doors through which we can cross over the thresholds our common human identification into the lives of our sisters and brothers of our human family, so to side and stand with them in their travails.

Here, I am reminded of a passage in the Epistle to the Hebrews.[1] The writer speaks of a living, not dead God; thus, the God into whose hands all must fall. The God who, in judgment, will condemn those who forsake (“abandon”…”shrink back” from) the faith. By way of encouragement (and, conversely, to discourage the desertion of the faith in the face of hardship), the writer recalls a time when the people steadfastly sided in solidarity with those who were suffering.

Still, I wonder. If or as, in the mind and heart of the writer, God could be expected to exact vengeance on those who strayed, why then could not God have been counted on to spare those who, holding unwavering their faith, stood fast under fire?

This question, I think, presents itself as another step along the way of contemplation of the meaning of suffering; leading us again to look at God. In a word, under the banner of belief, perhaps difficult to digest and, for some (and, at times, for me), challenging to accept, something may be amiss in a view of an ever-ready interventionist God who is expected to save, to relief and to release the faithful from suffering. For, in the history of the world unto this day there has been and is more than enough suffering to go around (irrespective of the faith of the sufferers!) from which there was and is no blessed surcease.

Perchance, then, could it be that God, the Creator of life, indeed, as Life itself – meaning the totality of all that we know, all that we can know as real, all that is real, including suffering – joins us, shares with us, is at-one-with-us in all of our living, including our suffering?

More to come…

© 2021 PRA


[1] It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. But recall those earlier days when, after you had been enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to abuse and persecution, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion for those who were in prison, and you cheerfully accepted the plundering of your possessions, knowing that you yourselves possessed something better and more lasting. Do not, therefore, abandon that confidence of yours; it brings a great reward. For you need endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. For yet in a very little while, the one who is coming will come and will not delay; but my righteous one will live by faith. My soul takes no pleasure in anyone who shrinks back. But we are not among those who shrink back and so are lost, but among those who have faith and so are saved (10.31-39).

5 thoughts on “Suffering, Part 4 of 5

  1. Dear Paul,

    I wrote a post last night in response to part 3 of this series. Alas, something happened, and when I tried to post it, everything froze on my machine, and I finally was forced to allow it to evaporate into the cyber-ether. In that would-be post I did leap to a question about the point you raise in the final paragraph of today’s post, that if we are to believe, as we are taught, that God is present with us in, and bears along with us our suffering, then if suffering is indeed “God’s will” or if God “allows” suffering, it would appear that God chooses suffering for God’s self as well.

    You had suggested in yesterday’s post the idea that God is forever in the process of becoming alongside creation, a thought that I know we both find at least intriguing. That prompted me to wonder whether God’s experience of suffering alongside humanity and individual humans, indeed, suffering with any aspect of the creation, might not be an instrument of God’s becoming, just as we speculate that our suffering may find purpose in our own becoming. If our own hearts are enlarged or rendered more accepting, loving, and wise because of the suffering we endure, perhaps in some way the same may be true of God? Taking that thought a little further, if the becoming of God is actual, perhaps the loving heart of God strives mightily to be able to rescue creation and its creatures from suffering but is simply not there yet? (This, of course, brings in the factor of time, which is a human construct, and vastly complicates the question, but I hope you see what I’m getting at – translating “becoming” into something that is apart from and distinct from the passage of time as we perceive it, something that is impossible for human minds to grasp.)

    All of that leaves me to speculate that God simply functions in ways that are inscrutable to humans. Perhaps there are underlying principles in place for God’s relationship with creation and particularly with humans, principles designed by God that God chooses to abide by that allow the becoming of creation and the becoming of God to unfold as they should or must.

    We know that humans have free will, the mere existence of which, it seems to me, necessarily limits God’s omnipotence. Either God chooses that limitation on God’s omnipotence, or God is not (and never was) omnipotent. I think it is a small leap from human free will to say that perhaps God chooses, and perhaps must choose, to limit God’s omnipotence further by not intervening to prevent suffering or evil. The danger, I think, is that with full omnipotence God becomes merely a great magician instead of God, manipulating every aspect of creation for God’s own satisfaction. The choice I see God faced with is the choice between endless power or endless love. If God’s choice is endless power, God is no longer the God we know. The choice of the God we believe we know through the Christian scriptures must be endless love. Which means suffering exists, but an endlessly loving God is there in the midst of the suffering with us and with all of creation. And perhaps, in the end, endless love proves to be far greater than endless power.

    Thank you once again, Paul, for making me think and feel my way through this season with you.

    Much love,

    Karen

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Karen, as our beloved friend Loretta oft opines, “Technology only good when it works!” I sorry your post, figuratively and literally, evaporated into the cyber-ether. Nonetheless, what you share here moves (in the words of Jesus’ counsel on the power of what faith does) mountains of my inner moorings to a new place!

      I digress. It occurs to me, in reflecting on your words, that we, you, Loretta, and I and manifold others, are wrestlers with the world, strugglers with this life we live in time and space. For more are the questions we discern are in need of reply than the answers that we can amass to toss at the great wall of contradictions we experience. Why, in the face of love, does hatred thrive? Why, when the need for relationship and connection and, therefore, the hunger for communion, does separation and segregation (of every kind) exist? I could go on, but you, I know, get…feel my heartbeat. I simply, profoundly do not understand the forces of life that inveigh against what I perceive as ultimate goodness, which is love. Yet I am called and driven to contend against all that defies and denies what is God for me as long as I have breath and strength…

      Now, your final word is gospel for me. For, in this, you strive to reach, and then attain a place for me of peace: “The choice I see God faced with is the choice between endless power or endless love. If God’s choice is endless power, God is no longer the God we know. The choice of the God we believe we know through the Christian scriptures must be endless love. Which means suffering exists, but an endlessly loving God is there in the midst of the suffering with us and with all of creation. And perhaps, in the end, endless love proves to be far greater than endless power.”

      Thank you, Karen. Thank God for you.

      Love,
      Paul

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Just AMEN to y’all!!!! God’s suffering with us as part of his becoming Just as we are becoming!!! I wonder who I will have BECOME by the end of Lent!! I feel like I just went to church!!

    Karen I’m soooo sorry your words didn’t post!! Happened to me twice in Paul’s last series!! But he’s too good for us not to repost so THANK YOU for what you posted today!!

    Love y’all!!

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  3. Loretta,

    I hear exactly what you’re saying. I spent a significant part of my life thinking that one day I would go to seminary, but for a number of reasons, some better than others, I never did. Now, Paul’s blog seems to remind me rather frequently that that old idea never really died, and so I figure I’m kind of studying theology with Paul, who as you know better than just about anyone is a generous, thoughtful, passionate, and dedicated teacher. What can be more important than the questions he raises, which are questions that we all face time and time again in our lives? He is, as you said, too good not to keep on posting, even when technology drives you up the wall, as it has been doing to me for several weeks now.
    Thanks for weighing in about our exchange. I’m excited about the exploration of ideas that we have going this Lenten season. Thank you, Paul, and thank you. Loretta, for letting me tag along and explore with you!

    Much love to both of you,

    Karen

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  4. My beloved sisters, more than once I have said/written and, thus, do so again, that we, the three of us, for me, have formed (and, it occurs to me, given one of the themes of this our current correspondence, as we continue to become) a trinity of explorers, of pilgrims who share in our reflections/ruminations on our life’s journey. And, in this, for me, each of us is a significant part, a significant PERSON to and for the progression of thought and feeling of the other two…

    To wit, yes, I may think and pray and write and share, yet so, too, do you; each one of you. And, in this, it is not possible for me to know consciously (though intuitively, surely, I am cognizant of it) how much you, each and both of you, in your sharing, feed and fuel my thinking and praying and writing and sharing. For, truth be told, I may not always have said/written it (for, indeed, I was not always alert to it!), clearly, frequently a word or two or more from each and both of you altered the course of my thinking and praying and writing and sharing. In a word, we’re in this together. In another, doubtless, more accurate word, we, each and all, one for another, serve and teachers and students…

    For this, I am most grateful.

    Thank you. Thank God.

    Love

    Like

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