Jesus on “Why we Suffer”

    Jesus said this about the causes of our suffering.  In John 9:2-4, Jesus was
    asked why the man was born blind.  “Jesus answered, neither this man nor his
    parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in
    him.”  In Luke 13: 1-5, Jesus was talking about “the Galileans whose blood
    Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.” “Do you think that because these
    Galileans suffered in this way that they were worse sinners than all other
    Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.”  
    Jesus continued, “Or those 18 who were killed with the tower of Siloam fell on
    them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all of the others living
    in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they
    did.”  By these references Jesus makes clear that our suffering is not the result
    of sin.  (Of course, we do need to be mindful that in other passages Jesus tells
    us that some suffering is the consequence of sin.  See for example John 5:14.)
    Henri Nouwen uses these and similar passages to say that our questions come
    from below and Jesus responds to them from above.  That is, we ask, why do
    we suffer and Jesus does not answer the question we ask directly, but points
    to the Truth that Jesus would have us see.  In the case of the blind man: that
    through the blind man’s healing God’s works through Jesus would be
    revealed.  In the Luke readings: that regardless of WHY they suffered and
    perished, WE must repent of our sins if we are to receive the Kingdom of God.

    In the end, I believe that we will not know for the most part why we suffer—for
    to “know” in many instances is to know the mind of God.  Although that has
    been the human desire from the beginning, God did not tell Job—and Jesus
    does not tell us why!  Yes, some of our suffering is brought on as the natural
    consequence of sin and bad choices by us.  But the suffering of which I speak
    is the loss and the deep hurt that has no easy explanation and fights against
    our sense of what a just and loving God would allow: the loss of a child,
    terminal illness, being an innocent victim of another person’s evil action only by
    virtue of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  No, for these I believe we
    will have no earthly explanation for why.  I say this mindful of Joseph’s words to
    his brothers “even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for
    good,” (Genesis 50:20) and Paul’s assurance that “we know that all things
    work together for good for those who love God… (Romans 8:28)

    For me, the focus on “why we suffer” misses the point.  Jesus’ point is that we
    are to repent while we have life so that the Kingdom of God may be ours. A
    foretaste of the Kingdom of God can begin now by making the intentional
    decision to live our lives mindful and aware that we are living in the presence
    of God.  As in the case of the blind man, we too will know and others may see
    the power of God’s presence and God’s healing in the face of our suffering!

    For me, it is enough that I know that God suffers with us, and I look to John 11,
    the miracle of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.

    We all know the story: Jesus is away. Martha and Mary implore Jesus to come
    to them because Lazarus, their brother, is dying.  They both believe that if
    Jesus were present, Lazarus would not die.  Jesus, knowing that he would
    indeed raise Lazarus from the dead—arrived on the 4th day after his death.  
    He speaks with Martha and later with Mary.  As he walks to the tomb where
    Lazarus had been placed we are told:

    When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping,
    he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.  He said, “Where have
    you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep.

    A few years ago, my understanding of these few verses about the miracle of
    Lazarus changed radically!  It was at that time that I came to understand the
    words “Jesus wept” very differently.  No longer noteworthy only as the shortest
    verse in the King James Version of the Bible, these words may be the most
    important—and the most profound— in understanding God’s love for us.

    What is happening in the story?  Jesus is walking to the tomb—he knows
    exactly what is going to happen: Lazarus will walk out of the tomb—once
    dead—but now alive!  Of all the miracles—of all the “signs” that Jesus is the
    Son of God and is Himself true God—just as He is true man—THIS miracle
    would be the most dramatic of all!  

    But in that moment—do you see the importance of what Jesus did? Jesus
    wept.  Knowing as only He could know the joy, indeed the MIRACLE of what
    would occur in just a few moments: Jesus wept.  We are told that Jesus wept
    because of  His love for them. Why did Jesus weep?  Because Jesus loved
    them—and he knew the pain they suffered because of their loss.

    In The Interpreter’s Bible (1953 edition) one commentator writes:

    “For Christ, so the N.T. keeps assuring us, is the express image of God’s
    person, the perfect showing forth in human form of the very character of God.  
    And this not merely now and then, or in general; but always, and in everything
    he did and everything he was.  Hence these tears also are a revelation, an
    authentic revelation of the divine: granting us insight into God’s mind and
    nature; bringing home to us some inkling of the wonder of his compassion;  of
    the depth and the sureness of his sympathy with his needy, desperate world,
    and for hurt minds and hearts.  Hence Jesus wept is not a blot upon the
    records, a slip, a weakness, something to be uncomfortably explained away.  
    But through that also we can learn what God is really like and is, and how he
    bears himself toward us.”

    I have come to see the true miracle in this story is not only in the power of God
    to raise Lazarus from the dead—but the MIRACLE of God’s revelation to us
    that just as Jesus mourns, just as Jesus suffers, just as Jesus weeps for
    Martha, Mary and all who loved Lazarus, so too does God mourn, suffer, and
    weep with us and for us when we suffer.

    Our God who loves us so dearly that he gives us life and sustains us—also
    suffers with and for us.  God knows the end of our story just as Jesus knew the
    end of  Lazarus’ story.  But God not only gives us life and sustains us—He
    loves us so very much that he gave us his only begotten son, Jesus.  And the
    true miracle is that we now know that God loves us so tenderly—so dearly—so
    completely that God suffers with us in our time of pain and loss!  God who
    knows the end of our story suffers with us too!

    The true miracle
    is that we now
    know that God
    loves us so
    completely that
    God suffers with
    us in our time of
    pain and loss!  

    The Suffering Tree
                                   The Suffering Tree

                                        I stand alone
                                 My world is shattered.
                                  It cannot be restored.

                            All that I have known is gone.
                               It has been ripped out and
                                  Carried away from me;
                                  And I could do nothing.

                        I have been marked with a special sign
                                      That I should remain.
                It would have been better had I been swept away
                             With all that I had known and loved.

                                The color of my life is gone.
                     The music of my life has been taken away.
                       The song of the robin in the far off woods
                 Reminds me of my loss and only deepens my pain.

                       I still see in the far distance familiar sites.
                                 But they look different now
                                     As I stand here alone.
               Amidst the barrenness--the emptiness-in total despair.

                        I do not know why this is happening
                       Today, I cannot think of what will be,
                      For I only know what was and what is
                                Someday . . .  perhaps . . . .

If all of this is true for a tree
                        How much more so for you and me!

    As care givers, for a time, the very best that we can do is to be                 
    with those who suffer, weep with them as they are weeping, and strive    
    to be as Christ to them in their suffering.

    Change and loss can shake us and those we care for to the core of
    our being.  May these words help to give expression to the deepest
    feelings of suffering which come from death, loss and change.  These
    words are intended to begin the sharing of feelings which may lead to     
    healing.  From this beginning, may the Holy Spirit guide your care
    receiver and you from a place of suffering to a place of hope.  Amidst    
    the suffering, may your care receiver know the love of Jesus Christ and   
    by His power and grace, may you both receive the peace of Christ!

  (The above was written while on retreat as a gift for Stephen Ministers.)