Unrelenting Suffering: Reflections on Oklahoma City Storms

Unrelenting Suffering: Reflections on Oklahoma City Storms May 31, 2013

Last Friday night I was eyeing my swollen and throbbing finger in some frustration.  A painful wasp sting had just put a crimp in the plans for the evening. Idly, I checked the news and heard to my horror that Oklahoma City was just at that moment being besieged again with tornadoes and driving rains so heavy that the reporters say it was more like a hurricane than a tornado. Definitely interrupted evening plans for them.

I logged into Facebook and mentioned that I was watching the situation. Several people contacted me privately, admitting their fears about relatives there. They asked for my prayers.

Of course I complied–and then immediately said something like this to God, “Do You have any idea what You are doing?”

I, too, this somewhat sophisticated theologian, immediately blamed God for this. After all, “the whole world is in His hands.” Not doing such a great job, are You?

The suffering, fear and destruction–even from a distance–threatened to engulf my emotional reserves.

Then I began to think of my friend, Goldie, and the world she introduced me to over 20 years ago. Goldie had been brought up in an Orthodox Jewish home but had embraced Christianity a number of years before I met her. Such a move definitely caused estrangement by her family, but they had reconciled by then.

Goldie and I experienced one of those “Jonathan and David” moments when we met–our hearts were knit and we formed a rich friendship.

She introduced me to the Holocaust. I’d known about it, naturally, but not this way. Her parents, David and Sarah, were Polish Jews. They married in December, 1941. A few days later, David was carted off to the first of several concentration camps he would inhabit. Sarah was sent to the Jewish Ghetto in Warsaw, Poland, and later to a camp.

They survived, although most of their larger family were killed or died from starvation or some other privation. Somehow, David and Sarah found each other after the war. Sarah was eight months pregnant with Goldie’s older sister when they, speaking no English, landed at Ellis Island in New York hoping to rebuild their lives.

I learned about suffering from them. David, seeing the power of my friendship with Goldie, embraced me as his own daughter. He spoke little about his years in the camps. However, I knew this:  he never had a moment without excruciating pain.

At one point, a friend of his was called forth for a beating by the Nazis. David, stronger, stepped up to take the beating for his friend, too weak to survive the expected brutality. David ended up with non-repairable nerve damage in his lower back. He suffered the rest of his life.

I accompanied the family to a Fiftieth Year Holocaust Memorial. I wept with them over their pain. The meaninglessness of their suffering. The unending nature of it. The losses that can never be recovered.

They cried out to God in their memories and in their ongoing broken hearts. I cried with them.

I hate suffering, despite being refined by my own. I long for the days when every tear shall be wiped from our eyes.

We do not live in that time.

I ache over further loss, over sufferings that are invisible to me but which permeate human existence. I also know that there are countless acts of sacrifice being made every moment of the day, just as David did in the camps.

In our sufferings, physical, emotional, spiritual, Christ is present. Fully. He weeps over the losses, binds up the broken-hearted, and sustains those who will step up and offer healing hands, a cup of cold water, a blanket, and hope.

The hands and feet of Jesus: they are all over the place. Even in my “How dare You’s” that I offer to God in my anguish.

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  • Angie Hammond

    You know it says something about your character that you ask God the very same questions we do. And then you tell us that you asked them. And to top all of that off you tell him he’s not doing such a good job in your eyes right now.

    For me, it just brings me that much closer to God because here we have a pastor who knows so much more theology and yet she is just like me. You ask the hard questions and you hurt too and yet you are the voice that says Jesus is right there with them and with us. And as you paint the picture with your words, I can see him there in the midst of the destruction comforting the hurting and weeping with those that are crying. Then I see you asking why did you let this happen yet again. And Thanks be to God that while you are not God you with your words make him real for so many who ask where is God. And I’m certain that he hears your prayers.

  • I say to myself “It’s against the odds that such a natural disaster would visit my neck of the woods. After all, it’s missed me all these years. Since I’ve not suffered through a terrible storm before, I feel a sense of immunity. Not me.”

    But come to think of it, I HAVE been there, just not in the physical me. Not in the bodily-hurtable me. I’ve been in soul-storms, mental, breathtaking whirls of winds, downpours of often untraceable tears.

    But I’ve never been in both kinds of suffering at once, and I don’t try to imagine what it’s like, because I can’t. Can’t ask God why—just don’t have the words or the leverage, not in my heart, not in my unanchored soul.

    But I can think and pray and ponder and care and be present for whoever needs me. I guess I’ll just have to bypass the “God, why?” question, because I simply don’t know how to ask it.

    • Thank you for posting. This is beautiful. And full of faith, faith that acknowledges we just can’t know or even ask some questions right now.

  • Don Wiley

    It’s an irony that we become believable in proclaiming a truth when we clearly express the figurative puddle of doubt that sits next to our well of faith… and that the puddle ebbs and grows based on our worldly experience. Our Savior saw and *felt* the amazingly devasting suffering and destruction of those around him; yet, even the greatest empath this world has ever seen (to borrow a trendy ‘spiritual’ term) was not discouraged because He knew… better.

    What did He know? He knew…

    – the spiritually humble would receive the kingdom of heaven.

    – the mourners would be comforted.

    – the meek, the least among us, will inherit the earth.

    – those hungry and thirsty for righteousness will be filled.

    – the merciful will be shown mercy.

    – the pure in heart will see God.

    – the peacemakers will be called children of God.

    – those who are persecuted because of righteousness will receive the kingdom of heaven.

    He knew this… and because He knew this, He was able to manage the weight of so much more suffering than we will ever imagine…. Oh, yeah and He told us… He knew and He told us. Because He told us and because I have faith in Him that He is who He has said, I can trust his foretelling.

    If I only remain open to the joy in the world (as some ‘positive thinking’ preachers espouse) or become unable to see the world without looking through a lens that highlights pain and injustice, it is as if I were seeing the world as a black and white photograph – and I was only looking at one color. The world is not black and white – it is brilliant color. Our Savior saw that: the suffering of the poor, the disabled, the persecuted – and the beauty, whether it was a gift of fine perfumed ointment poured on his feet by Mary, the pleasures of playing children or the beauty of the lilies of the field.

    Christy, I’m certainly not smarter, less flawed – I’d be a 1%’er if there was an Occupy Flaw Street movement – or more faithful than anyone else. One of the things I am learning lately is to broaden, rather than sharpen my view. My hope for you and others, in the midst of the depth of suffering and loss you experience empathetically, you also remain open, personally and empathetically, to the profound mysteries of joy and grace which *also* surround us.

    • Don Wiley

      forgive the grammatical mistakes… did not edit 1st…