Suffering, a Chance to Love God as God Loves Us
I want to share what I have recognized late in life about suffering. I think there is much more to understand about it, but this aspect helped me.
God/Jesus loves us unconditionally. He hurts for us when we make mistakes and have to take the consequences so we won’t keep on making them. He hurts with us when others harm us and he hurts with those we harm and he hurts for those who harm us also. He’s in this duck soup of life even more vulnerable than any of us. Jesus told us that whatever we do to others, we do to him. Yet he never stops loving any of us.
Life is about learning to love as Jesus showed us God loves, unconditionally. That means our self, our neighbor, our enemy, and God who is in control, but lets us and those we love suffer. Why?
Because that is learning to love like God loves. That is true love above and beyond the ordinary garden variety we call love in our societies.
Life is a spiritual journey of taking a leap of FAITH, of growing in faith until we can trust (which is HOPE). And with grace (the Love of God) hope can become LOVE with no small print, expectations or exceptions. I think that is the whole point of our human journey.
Two small experiences I’ve had illustrate some of the reasons I believe this:
Many years ago, I woke up in the middle of the night with a horrible stabbing pain in my eye. There was no ophthalmologist in Dickson then and Julian was just recovering from the flu. So I lay down on the couch in the living room, hoping to be able to hold out until morning to wake Julian to drive me to Nashville. As I lay there struggling to bear the pain, I remembered about praising God even in times of suffering. I decided at least this way, God would get praise, so I began through gritted teeth to praise God. After a few minutes of praising God each time the pain hit, I had a very vivid sense of a presence in the room over by the window. I began to experience an awesome feeling of being tenderly and totally loved. I soon was overcome by joy even though I still was feeling the stabbing pain. Continuing to praise with joy, I finally fell asleep. When I awoke at dawn, the pain was gone and never returned.
Now, I have been in physical pain plenty of times since then and praising has not taken it away. But now, I know that God is with me in it. I am not alone.
I have been pretty insecure most of my life. Emotional pain can wipe me out as much as physical. In my fifties I was in a wheelchair from a painful condition on the soles of my feet and palms of my hands. But one of my sons worked for an airline and as his parents, we could fly free even to Europe. So, I traveled in a wheel chair to countries that not only weren’t handicapped accessible, but where the handicapped were even kept out of sight in attics. In one, it was raining and Julian was trying to get the wheelchair and me out of the street onto a covered sidewalk. Three middle-aged local women were chatting and blocking us from getting out of the rain. They saw our problem, but not only didn’t move, but when we had to go past them out in the street, they literally hissed at me! I was shocked. Why would people hate me when they didn’t even know me? I wasn’t used to being the victim of prejudice and I was very depressed that night. The next morning when we toured a very crowded Cathedral, Steve wanted to climb to the top of the dome and Julian wanted to take photos of all the gold and silver and even semi-precious stones in the walls. So, we finally found an empty dark corner to get me out of the way while they did their thing. They were gone a long time and I began to get more depressed and to feel sorry for myself. I could see the beautiful carved marble altar, but though Jesus on the Cross is usually on the wall above the gold tabernacle, he wasn’t there. I began to look for him and finally thought to look up behind me and there he was on the cross. We were alone together in the dark empty corner. Once again, I had that sense of his presence and even his understanding of my feeling of rejection. I realized then that we are not alone even in our feelings. Jesus not only suffered for us, he suffers with us. He is God with us in our humanity with all its joys and sorrows.
This was over thirty years ago, so those countries may have changed. But on that trip we ran into obvious prejudice several times. And again, I don’t have that same sense of his presence in similar situations, but I know he is with me. And it makes a difference. I can praise him with faith and trust and with love.