sometimes i forget that learning occurs in steps. one rarely ever "learns" a thing all at once. and, if it is something particularly challenging, pertinent, or what have you, i think there are many steps to take before anything is truly learned.
many of you know that i have had something of an interest in the idea of a suffering God. this has been years in progress but has especially taken the stage in the past two years. i don't really know why this is. i think that my understanding of and experience in the world are inextricably linked to my understanding and experience of God, and so as I get older, my faith dares to ask the harder and more "raw" questions. Knowing God deeper--knowing Him nearer--demands a lot of daily life and existence. Because He changes everything. That's what I treasure about the place of life i am in right now. As much as it is a challenge, i am finding myself in this place of "doctrine meets real life." On so many levels, the things i've been told and taught are beginning to take root (or, like chaff, are blown away). Life and theology are necessarily linked. Faith and praxis cannot be separated. What you do and what you say in life will always reveal what you believe about God. Whatever you are placing faith in for life is evident by the way in which you live it out.
For me to live honestly, truthfully, and with integrity, i must give more than a passing thought to the issue of suffering. if i am true to my faith and desire to develop a well-formed, true theology, then i must concern myself with the question of a suffering God. the world suffers, it is easy to see and therefore easy to say. i suffer (as each of us does), and this too is easy to say (although i alone might know in what intimate ways I do suffer). so then, my faith asks, "Does God Suffer?" and the question isn't very easy.
In high school i thought i knew a lot. i really did. i thought so much made sense and i neatly categorized my faith. I adopted an understanding of God's sovereignty that has, yes, "served me well," but was under-developed, if that makes sense. so lots of the education, study, experience, and such that has taken place SINCE high school has shaken and grown that understanding of God's sovereignty that was actually more of a flattening than an enhancing of the truth about God. (But this is life, isn't it? we are always learning more, discovering what we thought we knew but didn't or at least discovering deeper and more fully....)
I had that whole medical challenge with my back in high school. being braced for two years as a teen isn't exactly "ok." And i heard enough from both sides to be left confused: "Andrea, I'm so sorry for you, and God is too." "Andrea, as difficult as this is, i don't think we can say God is 'sorry' because He's sovereign."
Being a natural "empathizer," I've felt the suffering of many close friends. I've given enough well-intentioned but misguided advice and encouragement to know that the answers really are never easy and clean. I've also seen some beautiful redemption happen in the lives of wounded people and in the faith of disbelieving ones to know that something is going on that's a whole lot bigger. (to sum, i've been humbled and brought low. i've been brought to my knees. and that is how i've had to approach this subject).
I don't "focus" on suffering to be dreary or dull. It isn't a concern because I am somehow a bit twisted and like to dwell on the negative. I don't really see myself as a pessimist. but when i approached a professor about developing this class i am now taking, "A Theology of Suffering," some thought it was weird, it sounded strange. Some didn't know how to respond. I guess that's because it isn't a "typical" college undergrad course. And it's really not something Christians talk about (and live through). WHY?
I want to know why we don't really have a theology of suffering. why is it that our churches tend to teach and encourage praise before lament (or, sadly, praise WITHOUT Lament)? why is it that we've adopted self-help mentalities that have done more to rip apart our communities (encouraging off-balance individualism) than to unite them? why is it so difficult for us to journey with one another through suffering? why don't we have categories for long-term pain?
I know that there is no simple solution. I don't propose one. But i do offer a challenge. i want us to think about it. i want us to pray about it. i want us to wrestle with some of these questions.
the thing is, we all have many of the same questions. it seems that certain communities encourage tight lips over and above honesty. because, you know, sometimes the honesty is raw. sometimes honesty looks like disbelief. and, for some reason, we've decided we can't have that.
I'd like to see a conversation started. a conversation about God and suffering. A conversation that explores God in the midst of suffering.
NOT a conversation for the sake of conversation (to that, i roll my eyes) but a conversation that seeks the honest truth. A conversation that admits need and weakness and that is humble enough to hope that the Spirit will lead us into truth. A conversation that will walk itself out in the lives of people all over the place.
i don't mean we have to be constantly engaged in "heavy" conversation. but i think this issue matters and i think that it is essential to healthy faith. i think it speaks wholeness--both to the individual and the community. yeah, it matters.
if you're interested in some more reading, i wrote a paper last semester for my Old Testament Biblical Theology class that was an introduction to this discussion. The topic was my own choice and was prompted by last semester's wrestlings with suffering, God's sovereignty, His immanence, and His impassibility. Big words that basically address God's otherness, His power/control, His presence (or not), etc.
Here is a link to the paper: Where Is He and Does He Suffer?
(And, as always, I welcome any thoughts you might have)
Also, i think i'll try to keep up with posting more thoughts i have on this discussion as they come, as well as thoughts raised in the class. I'd like to share because it's been so transformational for me--and i think it has that same power for others. If you ever want to hear more, talk more, come find me. but i'm not pretending to have answers--we can wrestle together! and i can offer some book titles to you, if you want to read more. i can share my steps but your steps will be different.