The Question of Human Suffering

MoonlightMore times than I can name, my wayfaring has been a desperate crawl. This is not a metaphor, as there were days I could not drag my broken body downstairs for the mail.

Jan 2003, Meningitis. The virus had taken itself up in my spine and lining of the brain. Journal:

At every turn of the neck, the world exploded out of stereos on max – inside my head. I could do nothing but weep driving home. Never had I known such blinding pain. I really did not want to live like this anymore.

That night, I plumbed depths of rock bottom I didn’t know were there. The pain was so great nothing mattered anymore. Not finding a job, making ends meet. I just wanted to drop everything and die.

An email from a cancer survivor:
Been processing resentment in my life. God is showing me how I’ve been building that up in my life and it affects my immune system making me susceptible to disease.

February 2003
There have been mornings I would wake and realize with wonder my eyes had opened. That I was given another day. The awe came with…disappointment.

Midmonth – exactly ten years before I would start blogging – I found a totally unexpected check for $500 in the mail on my 30th birthday. The bills would be paid that month.

There is no word for what God has done tonight other than that He “disarmed” me. For the first time, I was enabled to pray blessings upon those who have hurt me or whose blessings I have begrudged.

How slow I have been to learn the weightiest, simplest truths these 13 years in Christ: we are meant to grow not on wings of ease but in suffering, and this thing called faith is meant to be lived out with the support of others. The ABCs…..perhaps they are also the XYZ. I marvel that I have marveled at suffering.

March 2003, God wasn’t done breaking me. So He sent me $1000 this time. Through an anonymous donor.

While I have harbored suspicious reserve of my God and His heart for me in these maddening trials, the one I should remain suspicious of is myself and my resolve to change. Even my most genuine, sweetest moments of repentance may be but moments; I know my heart, at least in times of sanity. I know I am as helpless to sanctify myself as I am to justify myself.

Something breaks. In order to restore it, you have to know the intent of its maker in the original design. What is the object of our living? The two-car garage white-picket watchdog two cute kids?

Across the spectrum of distinct faiths, we find that those who’ve struck the purest of gold in joy and freedom are those who renounced themselves most simply and profoundly. Heaven’s for later.

We come to the most famous historical narrative on suffering. Job had lost everything we define our life by and legitimately treasure: children, home, possessions, wealth, livelihood, health. Oh, Job wept. He literally lay in the dust. Dr. Timothy Keller offers a deeply thoughtful treatment on the question of human suffering. He says the Christian perspective is entirely realistic. We don’t minimize the impact of tragedy and loss. When it sucks, we acknowledge it does (my paraphrase). We don’t try to zone out of it. We weep, enter its fullness – I would add, like Jesus. He didn’t meditate himself out of the agony on the Cross. He refused the wine offered him in his thirst, wouldn’t dull himself away. It was His surrender to the torment that redeemed both Himself and His bride, the Church. In the book of Job, our Maker does not apologize. Contrary to what many have imagined in times that strain, God does not lament here either – at least, in flummoxed helplessness. He even seems to go off topic when He finally presents Himself to answer Job. God’s own query points to the limits on our knowledge and strength.

The book of Job, Chapter 38, as I examined those early months in 2003:

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?

Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off…Surely you know!
Who stretched…
Who shut up the sea……
Have you ever given orders….
Have you journeyed…

Have you seen…
Have you comprehended the vast…
Tell me, if you know all this.
Can you…
Do you know
Surely you know….
Can you bind….
Can you loose…..

Can you bring forth….lead out…
Do you know the laws of the heavens?
Can you set up……
Can you raise…
Do you send…..

Can you hold him…
Can your voice…..?”

Chapter 42, Job’s reply:
“I know that YOU CAN do ALL things; no plan of yours can be thwarted…
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.”

Why do we suffer? I, for one, realized I ate nonfoods my whole life and then petitioned friends for prayer when Natural Law kicked in. Whether in the way we mistreat ourselves or others, more of our troubles than we care to admit are manmade. Of course affliction visits lives that contributed nothing to it. And when fists shake at God, the Church offers a range of well-meaning answers that justify Him or us. But theology does not satisfy the cries of the heart. Job 42. Where were we when He rolled out the universe and furnished it in spectacle? Indeed we are but a vapor. Theologian J.I. Packer has said we must acknowledge the mystery of God. I don’t see that He would remain God were we able to unlock the secrets of His glory. In my book, a God who hangs his head in attrition or fits inside my fabrications and understanding is not worthy of my worship.

202 thoughts on “The Question of Human Suffering

  1. Pingback: Greatness, Finale: The Triumph of Forgiveness | A Holistic Journey

  2. Pingback: Greatness, Finale: The Triumph of Forgiveness | HarsH ReaLiTy

  3. “…a God who hangs his head in attrition or fits inside my fabrications and understanding is not worthy of worship” I agree….
    Yet, it is so difficult to see the big picture when I’m caught up in my pain, my suffering, and my loss. The human in me demands answers, but God is God. And though he is a mystery while I’m a feeble creature, the fact that he is good and he is love is SUCH a comfort. Thanks so much for sharing this. There is so much to think about.

  4. I am so glad I read this. I often talk about dying to self and being willing to share in the Lord’s sufferings, but I really don’t (I want the picket fence), or at least I want to choose which ways I am willing to suffer, and which ways I’m not. I should be suspicious of myself, too. Only the Lord can justify me, and sanctify me.

    Blessings,
    Theresa

    • ” (I want the picket fence), or at least I want to choose which ways I am willing to suffer,”

      Really appreciate the honesty, Theresa. Well put. I’m sure everyone can relate, as I can.

      Xxxx
      Diana

  5. You never cease to amaze me with your incredible gift to transform words from mere strokes of the pen (or keyboard), into brilliant bits of light etched into the fabric of consciousness…

    ‘Something breaks, in order to be restored, yet what were the original intentions of the one who created it?’ (My paraphrasing…) so brilliant, so brilliant.

    You are a gift, girl!

    K.

      • May the darkness always lead the way to the Light.

        My understanding is that we all would be hard pressed to fully understand or embrace the light without our trials and tribulations … and we ALL pass through them, in one form or another.

        Your words have become a nexus of healing here. Now I see and understand the ‘Holistic Wayfarer’ moniker a bit more.

        It fits beautifully!

        K.

  6. A beautiful post, Diana. This would be something my friend, Connie, would have fully embraced. She definitely felt her battle with cancer was God’s way of using her life for the purpose he meant it for.

    Unfortunately, it is not something that I believe in. However, I respect those that do.

    Thank you for sharing this post within your comment on my blog. It is a treasure to read.

    • I appreciate your taking the time with the gracious feedback even though your worldview is different, Carrie-Anne. That Connie was something. It’s amazing how friends can help set our feet on a path we would never have taken.

      • Yes, our worldview is different, but we all can grow in one way or another through suffering. As you have seen by my other posts and comments, I am a literalist. I believe God says what he means and means what he says. I believe my reason for being alive is to seek *and* find what my Creator wants from me. If suffering is part of that training (like Carrie’s friend said), then He will help me endure it. He will show me the way to use it. One cannot deny that human weakness makes us want the picket fence around ourselves or it makes us want to choose the type of suffering we are willing to endure in the babyhood of our growth. Job was finally able to endure more–even from his wife’s shallow counsel <3.

      • You bring up something very interesting, Beth. How we’d like to choose our suffering. It’s on that point of powerlessness that we fall or rise. What do we do with it? Where do we go from there? What do we do with our desire for control? Thank you for enriching this journey.

  7. I am amazed by this blog. I appreciate your openness and honesty. Personally, I feel God has led me to share my own journey of healing from a man made struggle-child abuse. I was a survivor and I believe God led me through that trial to try to help encourage other survivors. Thank you for sharing your story! I would love to hear your feedback on my blog.

    http://Www.illwearpearlsinparadise.com

  8. “There have been mornings I would wake and realize with wonder my eyes had opened. That I was given another day. The awe came with…disappointment.”

    On some level, I understand this. You’ve come a loooong way baby! 🙂
    I have not always found satisfactory answers to the question of suffering. Only this: gratitude is the answer for everything that ails me. Thanks for letting us peak into your diary to find points that resonate and inspire.

    • It HAS been quite a long road, actually. And I think you nailed it, Timi. Deep at the crux of our grumblings is a sense of entitlement. Gratitude is its counterpoint, the resonance of humility.

      I appreciate the read.

      Xxx
      Diana

  9. Looking back on “suffering” in my life, those were the times where I grew the most in my faith. Of course, while I was in the midst of it, I couldn’t feel the growth. Suffering changed me, but God was still the same good God! When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I pondered the “why me?” One of the nurses gave me the best quote (that enabled me to move on): “Breast cancer can be caused by bad genes or by bad habits, but mostly it is bad luck.” So, yes, “bad luck” is alive and well here on earth. It is a matter of the heart what we do with that bad luck. Thank you for sharing something so profound and personal.

  10. we suffer in many ways, its getting through them; is it not ? i sometimes ask myself why? but i always get round to is, is this what shows us our inner strength. Powerfully written and yet very touching at the same time..

    • Thanks, Alysia. We all ask why. It was powerful hearing a pastor, completely broken by the death of his son who was about to start college, ask well WHY NOT ME?? Why should I (bolded, italicized) be exempt?

  11. D: you said ————But theology does not satisfy the cries of the heart————-

    This essay came from a secret place, and I believe it has roots in the ‘oven.’ That place of suffering where you know God gave it for a purpose; we can be trusted with it. The clay pot is not finished ’til its fired, yet all the work was previous………now it just sits there…. and takes the heat…. why?? to perfect it.

    So there is brother Daniel…………where? in the oven……….to prove to US his faith was perfect, that His God can be trusted. It is natural to want to flee from such heat, but our Creator knows what we need; like steel @2000 degrees F, it is made perfect.

    Yep, theology does not satisfy, But the God of heaven does, (but a little scripture doesn’t hurt). ‘Where were you when the foundations of heaven………………’ Always a mouth stopper.

    Appreciate your candor, and this encouraging word you laid bare, will surely be sweet wine to others.

    j.

  12. “Those who’ve struck the purest of gold in joy and freedom are those who renounced themselves most simply and profoundly. Heaven’s for later.”
    ” Jesus… didn’t meditate himself out of the agony on the Cross. He refused the wine offered him in his thirst, wouldn’t dull himself away.”
    Very Well said, Diana. Kudos. Keep it Up. 🙂

  13. Remembering “Heaven is for later” is such a powerful line.
    I relate to so much of your pain story.
    Only God has a way of transforming pain from its innate ugliness to something to celebrate for His kingdom.
    You have written a beautiful inspiring piece. Thank you for it.

  14. Why do we suffer? Wow…I don’t have an answer as my girl has been chronically ill since the age of 2 and she’s now 21. I have no answers as to why all I know is that God has seen us through. This week, she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. She had fallen down some stairs and fractured her tibia and has been in a leg brace for 3 weeks. MRI 2 days ago showed it is healing but then her dr pulled her xrays and said how did we miss that you have RA. My Gma, Pa and her dad’s Mom had RA and were crippled by it. She cried and told me she didn’t believe in God anymore and I cried with her because she said Mom I prayed and prayed all week that I would be ok why do bad things always happen to me? I don’t know I don’t have any answers for the 19 year battle we fight. She said Mom I don’t believe in God anymore, I don’t think there is a God. Wow that was a lot to take given she was raised with a firm Christian foundation! So your ? why do we suffer? I don’t know! I really don’t. I think about how Christ suffered and have heard some say that faith will see you through. This is what I know, I’m a strong believe, strong woman of faith and lean on God. I can’t explain not one thing about suffering but I tell you one day we will know but it is in the walking out this faith walk that I have been changed. I was thinking about the verse in Timothy that says “Women will be changed by childbirth.” I believe this is so. Had I not been Alex’s mom I would not be the woman I am today! I love this and your blog! This is the first time I have been in front of a computer to see it. I’m usually on my iPhone reading from a tiny screen. Wow! You posts have really touched me a lot. I don’t comment usually. But this one, well it’s close to my heart and I needed to share I guess. Have a beautiful weekend! 🙂

    • Oh, M, you gave me chills. Thanks so much for sharing. You share so much joy and hope on your blog but I know they actually fight through darkness to burst into light. I wonder if your daughter would be willing to read this post? I just know Jesus came to show us how to suffer, and we will never know the torment He faced drinking the full wrath of God against all evil – an eternity’s worth. I so appreciate hearing from you. You caught me as I was making my rounds, trying to get back to readers. =) Talk again….and I’m praying for your precious daughter. Oh! I had RA (I don’t think about it anymore) and I strongly recommend the book by Pitchford, the latest edition, for you and her to chk out. It’s on my other blog:

      myholistictable.wordpress.com

      Hope it helps. I almost feel you will need no other book on holistic nutrition.

      • Oh wow! Yes I will check it out! I’ll look at it and then read it she will see me reading it and be curious! We have thought about looking into the holistic type treatments as well to boost her immune system as flu season arrives. She’s usually hospitalized this time of year for pneumonia so last year she was in nursing school and wanted to continue I’m thankful that she made it through but it was rough. She wanted to give back and help others that are sick like she is. She works for a internal medicine dr and talk about compassion she is surrounded by it. I’m thankful you mentioned this book to me. I will ask her to read your blog! I’ll text her the link. She is like me she reads but doesn’t comment. I was reading your blog in fact when we were waiting for her MRI. I save those times for reading the deeper blogs they really are so touching all your posts! Thank you for what you are doing! You make a huge impact with your message and strength! 🙂

  15. Beautiful and bittersweet. The question of suffering, for me, is only answered through God and his promise that suffering is purposeful. This purpose is easy to see in some cases, like a life-saving medical treatment. It’s less easy to see in other cases. But just because I can’t see the purpose, I can trust that the purpose is real. Not easy work, but it is becoming easier through experience, practice, and loving support.

      • Diana, I appreciate your kindness and time. Oh, yes, I am especially grateful and keenly aware of my need for love and truth within community when I’m suffering. Suffering, in that way, brings me to my senses because I should be so grateful for loved ones every day 🙂

        Hope your week is love-ly ❤

  16. you must have felt pain in your spine that day. when i read your composition i cannot stop myself from crying i became emotional. i want you to write composition about your best day. i am waiting for your replay.

  17. Your words are beautiful truth, important for everyone, especially believers to know and understand. I never paid much attention to Job until I experienced suffering for myself… I would never choose the path of suffering (as I think few humans would) but look at all the beauty it brings. I think many times it takes suffering to lead us into true faith. I’m new to the blogging world and yours is the first account I’ve read… you have such a gift! Thank you for sharing!

  18. I wanted to let you know that chronic pain Author Mary Jane Gonzales has really connected with this piece and has shared it on her personal page. She wrote In the blink of an Eye and several other books. She saw it on my blog and really connected to it. Just wanted to drop in and let you know! Congratulations!

    • If you happen to be able to, would you kindly let her know I’ve looked at her bio and In the Blink online and that I thank her? I appreciate your taking a moment to let me know.

      Love and light,

      Diana

  19. I absolutely let Jane Gonzales know. She was thankful to hear that. She loves that you are such a deeply spiritual woman also interested in advocacy and will be sharing your work again in the future, she said.
    God be with you on your journey,
    abodyofhope

  20. Thank you for sharing this. It absolutely resonates with me. This portion is wholly introspective: “While I have harbored suspicious reserve of my God and His heart for me in these maddening trials, the one I should remain suspicious of is myself and my resolve to change.”

    Thank God you are on the other side of the trial and have become supremely better for it! It is true spiritual maturity and love when trials spur self-examination versus accusation. As Job said, can we expect good from God and not trouble (Job 2:10)? When we see the good in the “bad”, it loosens the hold it has on us.

  21. Thank you for giving me this link. You said it all. Actually the post needs no promotion. It promotes itself. It’s a great one on human suffering and faith. I hope you will watch out to see my own reflection on this topic on this site in about a week’s time.

  22. Pingback: Readers’ Choice | A Holistic Journey

  23. I am completely speechless now! Partially it is because my respect for you has grown manifold and I don’t know what can I possibly say to you. And partially as I have been reminded of a childish childhood incident that turned me into an atheist! I would try to share it with you and will hope you understand, but won’t feel bad if you don’t. Probably it would sound too naive to be even taken seriously.
    Exactly 8 years back (April 16, 2007), while I was coming out of a breakup, I met a road accident in which my right foot got trapped in motorbike’s wheel. Moments later, half of my foot was lying on the road a few feet away from me. The people around rushed me to a nearby super-specialty hospital and was operated twice in a few days to fix the torn half again. I had my sister’s marriage 4 days later (20th) and I was allowed to leave the hospital bed for a few hours to be at the marriage. As my cousins were dancing and I was looking at them trying to do whatever dance I could by waving hands in the air and with tears in mine as well as my sister’s eyes, I really started questioning that if there’s a God, what is he trying to achieve by this.
    A few days later the doctor said that since the skin is not showing improvement, another grafting surgery needs to be done (with a lot of expense). My dad, wanting to get a second opinion took me to a government (inexpensive) hospital where I for the first time saw reality. There were patients wailing in pain, without hands, someone had just been deprived of their legs in an accident and I stared at them struck with fear. The doctor there said that there’s no need of a surgery and the foot just needs some more time. Although after a few months I was able to walk and do feel grateful about it. But those two months can never go in a blur. With constant advices of my parents to keep having faith in God and thank him to save me, I wasn’t able to make peace with him.
    Now I see this comment has grown to be a fairly long one, but this is probably the first time I opened up this topic.
    After reading your post, I do feel ashamed, and I salute you with tears in my eyes 🙂

    • No need at all for the shame, P. I can’t imagine going through what you endured. And I won’t preach. At least will try not to. =) We ask, “Why me??” A pastor who lost his 19-yr-old son in an auto accident (just days before the boy was to start college) cried (literally) before a crowd while preaching, and asked, “Why NOT me??” I believe I deserve none of the good that has come my way. Every moment is grace. Every brush with tragedy reminds me that it can all be taken from me in a breath, and I am utterly dependent on God in a life I really cannot control. I appreciate your time and continued support.

      Blessings (though you may disavow them),
      Diana =)

  24. Thank you for this post HW. Job is one of the most difficult chapters, if not the most difficult in the Bible. Jung wrote on it. You have done so beautifully, from personal experience and I thank you for it. When there is time I want to read all the comments and your responses; I read Prateek’s and your comments and my heart is moved.

  25. Diana – This post is among one of your best….raw, self – evaluating and really something extra special. As you know, I mentor teenage girls/young women and there is always the inevitable discussion of why we suffer. This summer I took two of them to a Ravi Zacharias talk on the same subject. He too pointed to Job and his personal experiences and understanding. His exhaustion in spirit and pain led him to try to commit suicide as a young man….I do not make light of that depth of suffering – in some degree all human beings will get to that kind of base pain in their lives…it is then when we must decide whether we will reach up to help that we may have never known, or at least never trusted – or whether we will let our human spirit be defeated by sorrow. It is hard, and you are eloquently correct when your write, “we are meant to grow not on wings of ease but in suffering.” It is in suffering that we learn the depth of the love that God offers us…and it is then and only then that we can learn to stop relying on our own strengths and let go. It may sound trite – but it is true in my own personal experience – God can calm the storm and/or calm the child. Sometimes He will do neither – but His word promises – that though we may “walk through the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23), we can fear no evil as his rod (which prods us to go on) and his staff – or sheperd’s crook – will guide us along paths and if we get too close to the edge, He will use its crooked end to pull us back from the precipace…If only we will ask Him. Thank you for your thoughts and for bearing your heart for others. Well done, good and faithful one.

    Isaiah 43:2 “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.”

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