reflections on suffering, 2 of 5

How do we, how can we make sense of suffering?

(In asking this question, a faint memory was triggered this morning. Via a cyberspace search, I discovered, quite beyond my conscious awareness, that throughout these reflections I am reworking and revising material from a previous blogpost [trying times, suffering, God & me, September 26, 2014]. I make no apology for this. As an empath, especially sensitive to the hurts of others, the idea, the reality of suffering resonates within me, literally pains me. And as an inveterate inquirer, I live to make sense of things. The question “Why?” ever resounds in the depths of my soul. As Jacob wrestled with the angel until he was blessed with a new name, Israel, “one who strives with God”,[1] so my tussling with suffering will continue until I die or until I receive the benediction of deeper understanding.)

An olden point of view. Suffering, convincingly, albeit painfully rudely, reminds us that we are not omnipotent. Suffering compels us, in postmodern-speak, to “keep it real” by acknowledging the ineluctable finitude of our creatureliness.

A theological problem, as timeless as the view itself, is that it is only a short step away to assert that our human frailty, our susceptibility to suffering is a sign or proof of divine power; that through the lens of our limitations God’s might is shown and seen. This is one interpretation of the Apostle Paul’s testimony, after bidding without success that God remove an unnamed “thorn in the flesh”: (The Lord) said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”[2] However, I think that Paul, contrary to the Hellenistic notion of human sufficiency that can rise above all hardship, here admits, even more, asserts the wholeness of his humanity. Yes, he has powers and abilities, yet he also accepts his limitations. Through it all, for Paul, God is God. The same God, though knowable, wholly mysterious, revealed in the Book of Job, which, from its first through to its last word, boldly wrestling with the ancient riddle of the relationship between suffering and God, remains silent in the face of mystery, offering no conclusive answer other than the inscrutability of God’s sovereignty.

The Lord answering Job out of the whirlwind, William Blake, 1826

In this, God’s utter incomprehensibility (that the more we know or think that we know about God, the more we know that we don’t know!), I recall those words spoken through the ages and yet still by folk at times of sorrow: “It is God’s will.” Though I accept and respect the well-intended nature of this common human response to tribulation and grief, at the core of the idea of suffering and dying as God’s objective for humanity I perceive a cosmos-sized sadism: divine power acting capriciously, cruelly at our expense. This is not the God I know or think I know and (I am sure) in whom I believe as revealed in Jesus.

What, where, then, is the sense of suffering?

Illustration: The Lord answering Job out of the whirlwind, William Blake, 1826


[1] Genesis 32.22-32

[2] 2 Corinthians 12.9a

2 thoughts on “reflections on suffering, 2 of 5

  1. Thank you for part 2 Paul! I have no problem at all with you reworking a previous blog for this series because for me it just emphasizes how important a topic suffering is.

    You hit on a huge pet peeve of mine in this post. I am the first to admit there is so much I don’t know about God! But one of the things I NEVER say to anyone who is suffering “it is God’s will!” I just don’t think God would intentionally allow his children to suffer!!! So if I can’t think of anything else to say, I’m simply give the person a hug!! I that’s a least more comforting to them than implying or pointing out that this is what God wants for them.

    Looking forward to the next installment. Just curious, how did you settle on the number of 5 blog posts in this series?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Amen, Loretta, I’m all for the presence of one’s presence with one who is grieving as opposed to offering what I consider a less than consoling word: It is God’s will.

    As for reflections numbering 5, I did it more or less unconsciously wanting to complete the series by Saturday, the end of the week, and not crossing over/into Sunday, the Christian Sabbath.

    Liked by 1 person

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