The Road to Hope

Civil Rights leaders knew the power of suffering Photo by  History in HD  on  Unsplash

Civil Rights leaders knew the power of suffering Photo by History in HD on Unsplash

I spend much of my days shoring up that I do not suffer. I take aspirin. I work hard to ensure my kids are quite and not yelling. I turn the news off that I don’t want to see. I time my driving so to avoid traffic. I delay sharing bad or unwelcome news with others. I order things online so I do not have to go to the store. I look for the shortest lines.

Recently this line came through WeCroak: “Our avoidance instinct is also due to the fact that our culture has decided that suffering has no value.” (original source)

As a human I work to avoid suffering but as a Christian I know that suffering has immense value. As Paul writes:

And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.- Romans 5:3-5 (NRSV)

Paul seems to suggest that suffering is the road to hope. It is a road less traveled in my life.

I live in a bubble wrapped existence where the extent of my suffering is a power outage for a few hours or failing to meet some arbitrary expectation. I can imagine that many of us in the Church in the United States also do not suffer much at all. Which of course begs the question - if we suffer little do we hope for less?

Everything happens. Sometimes there is a reason.

You have heard it, "Things happen for a reason." 

For many this mantra is hopeful because it gives a sense of security that no matter what crap they are living with right now, there is meaning behind it. That suffering is not without purpose. This can reassure us when we feel like we are alone and broken and hopeless. If we can only believe that things happen for a reason then it dulls the pain a bit and gives us breath for another day. I do not discount the comfort this provides people in time of need.  

But it does not provide comfort for me at all. 

It can be argued that if things happen for a reason than ultimately that reason is God. It is God that caused the tsunami. It is God that gave the cancer. It is God that was behind genocides and wars. When I hear "everything happens for a reason" my mind jumps to the question, "why would God not only allow but even cause this amount of suffering?" 

I do not believe that everything happens for a reason. I do not believe that God causes, green lights or approves of the suffering in the world. 

Rather than causing the suffering, I believe God is present with us through the suffering like a friend. Rather than trying to teach a lesson of how strong God has made you ("God will not give you more than you can handle") or get you to be more faithful ("God brought you to it and God will bring you through it."), I believe God weeps and struggles with us. 

As Rev. William Sloane Coffin said at his son's funeral ten days after he died in a car accident, God provides minimum protection and maximum support.

Here is what I know. Everything happens. Sometimes there is a reason, sometimes there is not a reason. Either way, God is present with you. 

And that brings me more comfort than thinking that everything happens for a reason.