Is there not wrong too bitter for atoning?
What are these desperate and hideous years?
Hast Thou not heard Thy whole creation groaning,
Sighs of a bondsman and a woman's tears?
"The problem of pain," as C.S. Lewis titled it with his book on suffering, has been rattling around in me these three months, knocking its way through the hallways of my mind, tipping over tomes of theology I thought I had arranged quite nicely. (I used that word for you, Andrew.)
I can't claim to have anything new--gosh, C.S. Lewis wrote a book on it. But here are some thoughts:
Pain hurts. And we do not know why. Why pain, why hurt. If I imagine pain's arrival in Kolkata, I see him holding a very large suitcase, a suitcase he immediately unlatched and shook, letting fears and tears and broken bones and hungry bellies scatter aross the alleys and streets of this city. Whenever I arrived in Kolkata, with my very tiny suitcase of hope and goodwill and dreams, I took one look around the place and wanted to sit in a corner and cry. Nothing I had seen in my safe and sterile past prepared me for this.
Pain and suffering aren't things the church talks about all that much. The American church the least, probably. There is no blame to place or finger to point. The larger part of our culture just doesn't have to--or perhaps more accurately, doesn't want to--deal with it.
In her book, A Path Through Suffering, Elisabeth Elliot writes this:
Suffering, even in its mildest forms--inconvienence, delay, disappointment, discomfort, or anything else that is not in harmony with our whims and preferences--we will not tolerate. We even reject and deny it.
This is me. This has been me even in India. Always looking for ways to preserve self, to settle myself in comfortably, to watch out for me. I do it so naturally.
Then I read snippets in the Bilbe, snippets that jolt me with their dissonance to the way I am living.
"though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials"
"in this world you will have trouble"
"but it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for Him"
It's like I am living in a different reality. When I live by the reality of this world, suffering makes absolutely no sense. When I believe more in earth than I believe in eternity, suffering sinks me. The ship goes down fast when I see children without mothers, men without limbs, women without escape.
Why pain? Why hurt?
Here I learn, some days most harshly, other days more gently, that suffering is something from which I cannot hide. There will be no cowering in the closet until all the dark clouds pass.
Elisabeth says this also,
"I know of no answer to give to anyone except the answer given to all the world in the cross. It was there that the Great Grain of Wheat died not that death should be the end of the story, but that it should be the beginning of the story."
I have nothing more than this either. Jesus suffered. Jesus hurt. At whatever depth to which the world's most intense pain settles, Jesus went to that depth. Yes, He has heard the whole creation groaning. Even this night, when I will try to meet sleep again as questions flit and dip through me, He hears.
Now, as He died, to change the meaning of death to a signal of life, of rebirth,
am I willing to die?