Peter Wehner, NYTimes, God and Suffering

Peter Wehner:

These days I find I’m more alert to the grief and sorrow around me than I once was. In part it’s a product of my age, of youth giving way. I’m guessing my situation is not that different from many of yours.

Last month I checked in on a childhood friend whose 13-year-old son committed suicide last year after struggling with a brain injury. He told me, “I’ve stopped crying every day, which is a major transition.” He added, “I spent more than a year trying to get him well and keep him alive, and only in recent days have I finally, mostly, lost that mode of thinking. I don’t have to do anything now because I can’t.” Yet in his dreams, my friend said, his son is still alive and he’s checking on him to make sure he’s O.K. ….

Years ago I had lunch with a pastor and asked him about his impressions of “A Grief Observed.” His attitude bordered on disdain. He felt that Lewis allowed doubt to creep in when his faith should have sustained him.

My response was the opposite. Perhaps because my own faith journey has at times been characterized by questions and uncertainty, I found the fact that the 20th-century’s greatest Christian apologist would give voice to his doubts reassuring. And Lewis was hardly alone in expressing doubts. Jesus himself, crucified and near death, gave voice to the question many people overwhelmed by pain ask: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Jesus’ question, like ours, was not answered in the moment. Even he was forced to confront doubt. But his agonized uncertainty was not evidence of faithlessness; it was a sign of his humanity….

There is also, for me at least, consolation in the conviction that we are part of an unfolding drama with a purpose. At any particular moment in time I may not have a clue as to what that precise purpose is, but I believe, as a matter of faith, that the story has an author, that difficult chapters need not be defining chapters and that even the broken areas of our lives can be redeemed.

The book of Isaiah, in prophesying the messiah, describes him as “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” We’re told “by his wounds we are healed.” For those of the Christian faith, God is a God of wounds, where the road to redemption passes directly through suffering. There is some solace in knowing that while at times life is not easy for us, it was also hard for the God of the New Testament. And from suffering, compassion can emerge, meaning to suffer with another — that disposition, in turn, often leads to acts of mercy.

I have seen enough of life to know that grief will leave its mark. But I have also seen enough of life to know that so, too, will love.

Peter Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, served in the previous three Republican administrations and is a contributing opinion writer.

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