Suffering

Recently I received this sobering comment from a woman named Karen, posted to the Mystics page of this website:

God abandoned me, killed my brother, father and mother and left me with no family
God hurts people and could choose to help but doesn’t
It is hard to understand why he makes some people suffer so and gives so much to others, not very charitable

Karen, while there are many details of your situation that I do not know, it seems clear to me that you are dealing with profound suffering. First of all, let me say that I am very sorry for your pain.

Everyone’s situation is different, but mine is not empty of suffering. My father is wasting away with dementia, after losing my mother almost three years ago. But even worse than that is my stepdaughter’s situation. Born with polycistic kidney disease and related liver disease, she suffered a stroke at age 3 and now, at 24, is confined to a wheelchair, with impaired kidney functioning, end-stage liver disease, and intellectual disability. She regularly has to have blood transfusions to stay alive. She is incapable of caring for herself and must spend her day in a boring day-care facility while her mother and I work. The doctors have turned her down for transplants because of her limited self-care skills, and predict that she will need dialysis, possibly within a year. She will likely die within the next five to ten years. Needless to say, while she has an amazing personality, she is naturally very angry and depressed over her life circumstances. Just as painful for me is seeing how this has inconsolably broken her mother’s heart. My wife is a strong and resilient woman, but there is a shadow on her soul that only someone who has watched their child suffer while powerless to do anything about it can understand.

Karen, I’m not telling you this to say “my suffering’s worse than yours,” because of course no one could anyone ever compare their pain to another’s. I only tell you a bit about my story to let you know that I am no stranger to suffering.

It seems to me that you are standing at the threshold of one of life’s most profound mysteries: the mystery of why a good God allows evil and suffering to persist. There are many ways to respond to this mystery. Some people see it as proof that God doesn’t exist. Others see it as evidence that God is not good. Others, like myself, see it as pointing to the limitations of the human mind to fathom everything that is going on in the universe.

Given the fact that we have a choice of how to respond to the mystery, I believe our choice is important. It’s important whether we respond to suffering by saying “I believe in Love” or not.

Yes, I said “Love.” Christianity teaches that God is Love, and I believe this with all my heart. In fact, when I read over your comment, I re-phrased it like this:

Love abandoned me, killed my brother, father and mother and left me with no family
Love hurts people and could choose to help but doesn’t
It is hard to understand why Love makes some people suffer so and gives so much to others, not very charitable

Karen, does this ring true to you? Is this what you mean to say? If not, then I wonder if you have a distorted idea of who God is. Perhaps you equate God with fate or kismet, or with bad luck, or with the indifference of nature. If so, I invite you to reconsider who God is.

God is not fate, for God (Love) is bigger than fate. God is not luck (good or bad), for God (Love) is bigger than luck. God is not nature, for God (Love) is bigger than nature. When fate, or luck, or nature result in bad things happening to us or to those we love, we can be tempted to blame God for the bad things. But blaming God doesn’t help. In fact, in my experience it doesn’t even feel good. Blaming God for my pain just causes me more pain.

The great mystics teach that sometimes we do experience God as abandoning us. God seems to be absent in the midst of our deepest suffering. Why could this be? Is this because God doesn’t care? Or perhaps Love has its reasons, that are beyond our understanding?

If I say God doesn’t care, then I am saying “No” to Love. In the short term this might seem like protecting myself from further pain. But in the long run, it can only lead to a meaningless and loveless life. But on the other hand, if I believe that God does care, then I am saying “Yes” to Love. I am saying “Yes” to life and to hope. Note that this does not take away our pain, and frankly it might make sense to go out in a field somewhere and scream our lungs out, telling God just how angry we are! Because when we suffer, we do get angry. We get furious, we get enraged. We want to break things and do mean things to God. We would hurt God if we could. And the fact that we can’t hurt God just makes us madder.

And God loves us through all of this. For just as God is bigger than fate, or luck, or nature, God is also bigger than our pain and our suffering, and God is bigger than our rage and our fury. Love is the answer. And at the end of the day, it’s our choice whether to accept Love even in the midst of our pain, or to reject Love.

You know what else, Karen? What I have seen in life is that everyone suffers, sooner or later. Sooner or later even the ones who seem on the surface to have been “given so much” will suffer pain and loss. And we can never judge if our suffering is “worse” than theirs. All we can do is try to help one another when we see each other suffer (and we can learn a lot about God when we choose to help one another, but I’ll leave that one for you to explore on your own). It’s not that God wants us to suffer in some sort of sadistic way, but rather that God allows us to suffer. A spiritual teacher I highly respect, Richard Rohr, says that great love and great suffering are the doorways to higher consciousness. I believe he’s right. God gives us love, and God allows us to suffer. How we respond to these mysteries is up to us; but we are always given the choice to say “Yes” to Love.

One more thing I believe: God does not abandon us forever. Love waits for us to open our hearts. Love is the source of serenity and peace. If we feel like Love is absent, then the best thing we can do is to seek Love with all our heart. To cry for Love, to hunger for Love, to live for Love. In my experience, such yearning does get rewarded. Maybe not as soon as we would like. But Love will not abandon us forever. And when Love comes, Love brings peace and hope.

This is what I hope for you, Karen. May Love bring you peace and hope.

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  • http://heartofflame.blogspot.com Yewtree

    Beautiful post, Carl.

    It reminds me of Thomas Merton’s view of God:

    In the end the contemplative suffers the anguish of realizing that he no longer knows what God is. He may or may not mercifully realize that, after all, this is a great gain, because “God is not a what,” not a “thing.”

    That is precisely one of the essential characteristics of contemplative experience. It sees that there is no “what” that can be called God. There is “no such thing” as God because God is neither a “what” nor a “thing” but a pure “Who.”

    He is the “Thou” before whom our inmost “I” springs into awareness. He is the I Am before whom with our own most personal and inalienable voice we echo “I am.”

  • http://nitecaravan.blogspot.com/ GreenMonk

    Wow, what a powerful post.

  • http://stationarypilgrim.wordpress.com stationarypilgrim

    Wonderful site! I happened on it while researching mysticism for a lecture and a Blog posting. I will definitely return to investigate further.

  • Leslie

    Karen, if you read this, know there are those (me, for one!) who are weeping for and with you. This is how you know Love is still here, that you are not alone and that you do have a family.

  • Pingback: sacredfisher » Suffering

  • leigh

    I needed to hear that right now. Thanks, Leigh


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