A piece I wrote, “Sharing Our Solitude,” is one of January’s three main articles in The Examined Life. The issue is all about ‘enduring through suffering,’ and, among others, it includes an article on interacting with suffering in a classroom setting, an apology for watching sad films, and an artistic and symbolic exploration of the color black.
My contribution to the issue uses an account of suffering as inherently characterized by solitude to describe how Christ’s passion and death is a deeply, uniquely appropriate response to the suffering of the world. Here are a few of my favorite excerpts to whet your appetite.
The article begins with an explanation of suffering as particular, both in the sense of being inherently individual and in the sense of being existentially solitary. As a result…
…when we suffer, the greatest offense is often an attempt to provide a cure-all. Sweeping advice and generalizations or saccharine distractions just don’t fit with the particularity and the solitude of deep pain. We don’t want a universal cure; the possibility is, frankly, often sickening. Instead, we want a companion who shares our solitude by entering into isolation alongside us, who helps us by placing our suffering inside the bigger context of a life of love.
It isn’t until about halfway through the essay, though, that we get to the really good stuff. Because suffering is particular, God’s interaction with it is particular. The essay says,
God didn’t offer humans a cure-all, he became a co-sufferer. This distinction is immense. Rather than allowing us an escape or a distraction from suffering, he suffered alongside us. He experienced the immense solitude of suffering, saying, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” It is that very solitude that allows us to say “he is near to us.” He’s near because he has been alone beside us.
This is the hard-edged center of the work of redemption. Christ came down to be with us in our suffering, but–in line with his all his acts’ sublime tendency toward inversion–the result is that we now get to be with him in our suffering. Because he saw our suffering and came to sit beside us, we can see each of our sufferings as an opportunity to go and sit next to him. No longer need we cry, “Where are you, Lord?” with the Psalmist. Christ, like you, is here, alone, offering you an opportunity to be with him.
Christ did not come to soothe, but to save; not to distract, but to illuminate. Accepting his sacrifice isn’t a denial of the world’s deep pain, nor a drug to dull it. It’s an acceptance of the only hope in this world that sees what suffering is with wide-open and tear-filled eyes.