Monday, September 17, 2012

Thoughts on Suffering, Tragedy and Death

A very close friend of mine sent this article to me last week.  It is a excerpt from a small booklet called, That You May Be Healed - A Christian View of Suffering, Tragedy and Death.  I found it to be extremely profound on many different levels, and felt compelled to share it with you, my faith-filled readers.  (I only hope that I am not breaking any copyright laws!)  I hope these words bless you as they have me.

The Scandal of the Cross, How to Endure Evil with Love, Page 10-14
Jesus does not save us from evil by stamping out evil with force—or with His divine power as God.  His effort as Savior does not go into cleaning up the environment.  He doesn’t save us as human beings by changing what is outside of us—not even by preventing other human beings from doing things to us.  He saves us by changing our hearts; by empowering us to change in the very depths of our being; in mind and heart and will.  He saves us, essentially, by empowering us to love like God.

This is true salvation.  It is not salvation just to be delivered from pain or temptation.  If Jesus stamped out sin on earth, imposed a reign of peace and justice, and established a society based on authentic values; if He purified our human environment of all falsity and deception, of all bad example and enticement to evil; if He got rid of drugs, alcohol abuse and crime, pornography and manipulative advertisements, and stopped all wars and oppression—how would that make us any different?

In the absence of temptation we might not sin as much as we do now, but would we ourselves really be radically different?  We are not saved by changes outside of ourselves, but by a change in what we are, a change on the level of our hearts and minds and wills.  And this is the change to which Jesus invites us, the change His grace can accomplish in us if we accept it.

This is where faith comes in.  Is it really possible to endure evil with love?  Is it possible to love back when we are being tortured?  Robbed?  Raped?  When a loved-one is killed before our very eyes?  When someone gets our son or daughter addicted to drugs?  When we are maimed for life by an irresponsible, drunken driver?

“No,” we spontaneously answer, “we can endure these things if we have no choice, and perhaps endure them without giving in to hatred.  But to endure them with love—to love back in response to such evil—is just not humanly possible.  It cannot be done.”

And yet  Jesus did it.  What is humanly impossible can be done.  It can be done, not just by God, but by any human being who shares in the life of God.  And this is what grace is:  a sharing in the life of God. 

Jesus came to save us by offering us a share in the life of God.  God’s life is essentially knowing and loving, but above all it is loving.  The scriptural definition of God is simply “God is love.”  (1 John 4:7-8)  If we share in God’s life, we can love as God does.  If we love as God does, we must be sharing in His life.  This is what salvation is all about.

If we love as God does, nothing can harm us.  This is the sense in which Jesus does come to save us from all that menaces our existence, from all that threatens to diminish our lives here on earth.

In one of the passages in which He predicts suffering on the cross for His disciples, Jesus says an apparently contradictory thing:  “They will manhandle and persecute you, and some of you will be put to death.  Yet not a hair on your head will be harmed!”  (Luke 21:12-18)  How can Jesus make 2 such statements in the same breath?

The answer is that nothing can harm us except that which causes us to hate.  If we are robbed and we turn into haters; raped or tortured or just betrayed by a friend and it causes us to live the rest of our lives in hatred, then, we have been harmed.  But if we are robbed and we love back, raped and we love the rapist, tortured or betrayed and we respond with love for the one who is afflicting us, then we have not been harmed.  Our lives have not been diminished but enhanced, because we have been enhanced.  We have become more like God.

Jesus teaches that the fullness of life, authentic liberty, and the only effective pursuit of happiness in this world all come down to one thing:  learning to love as God does, which means enduring evil with love, loving back with the fullness of His love in response to everything that is.
Page 75-77
Jesus knew that those who spend their time asking, “Why did God do this to me?”  will be demeaned and diminished by suffering.  Those who whine and lament and complain will turn bitter and be overwhelmed by their suffering.  Those, however, who ask, “What can I do with this for God and his people?” will, like Jesus, overpower the problem of suffering with love.  We are redeemed, saved, made whole, because Jesus suffered with love.  There was nothing good about his suffering.  It was an evil.  He transformed it with love.  It became sacrifice.

In the Bible, sacrifice is not the destruction of the victim.  It is the transformation of the victim…it is important to remember that since sacrifice is in transformation and not destruction, then His sacrifice is not just in the cross, for that would just be destruction.  The transformation takes place in His resurrection and exaltation.  

For this reason, those who transform the evil of suffering into a sacrifice of love are instruments of grace in this world.  United with Jesus, they continue and make present what He accomplished.  Through God’s mysterious plan and purpose, the suffering of old age—illness, tension, loneliness, heartbreak, etc.—can all become gifts to help others, just as the suffering of Jesus helped us and made us whole.  Suffering need not be a tragedy.  It can be an opportunity.  That is why Paul can say:  “All I want is to know Christ…and to know how to share in his sufferings.” (Phil 3:10)  God can take our suffering of space and time and use them to make others whole.  We’ll never know until we get to heaven how many we have helped because instead of whining we asked the right question.

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