I know I know, this hopping between two sides of the same coin is becoming a habit, but that seems to be the tricky balance of the Christian life. A few weeks ago I wrote about What to do with Prosperity. Now I’m dealing with the flip side: Suffering.
It really is amazing how often you feel you’ve understood one side of faith, only to be confronted with the opposite the next day.
So I’ve dealt with the whole prosperity saga (more or less); now for suffering. I’ll tell you why this is an issue for me right now. It’s probably the one factor in life that makes witnessing the hardest for me. When you tell someone that God loves them and they come back with all the horrible tragedies they’ve had to endure, there’s little you can say in reply besides, “I’m really sorry about that.” As sincere as that is, it doesn’t change the other person’s perception that God is either a bully or non-existent. Sometimes it’s a good idea to just start with the foundations of faith: that God made us with a plan, that because of Jesus, we can be honest with God and trust that he works everything for good. That’s 100% true and applicable for any situation and I’ve seen people come out of tremendous trials with an even stronger relationship with God. But sometimes the suffering seems so great that words seem absolutely useless.
Earlier this week, a guy showed up at my work place, asking for donations for a shelter he stayed at. I went outside to give him some money and we started chatting. It became obvious very quickly that he had gone through a lot in his young life (he must have been in his early twenties) so I just listened. He said he believed in a loving God and parts of the bible but had given up on grace and particularly Jesus. At first I listened then very gently tried to bring Jesus into the conversation, particularly that we are free and forgiven because of him and not because of who we are. His reply was to tell me in more detail what rejection and abuse he’d received from so-called “Christians” and what sicknesses he had. What do you say to someone like that? “Don’t worry, it will get better”? “Trust in Jesus and everything will make sense”? I totally believe that Jesus can heal anyone or anything, but I don’t know how to say that to someone, who’s been down and then kicked even more, for so much of their life.
On the one side I was really grateful for my life and the people in it, on the other I felt convicted. What could my faith do for this poor guy who struggles every day just to make it and keep some hope for the next day? I’m not sure what the answer is. I hope and pray that listening and telling him that Jesus died because God loves us somehow reached him, even if it was in a deep place inside him that he doesn’t know of yet. I want to grow in this area. I don’t want to try to explain away all the hurt and suffering that doesn’t make sense to any human being, just so that I can give a happy, optimistic, “Christian” response. I want to be real. I want to look someone in the eye, really feel their grief and share it with them. Maybe in that, they can then see the Jesus, whose love becomes more real than anything this life can dish up.