The Question of Human Suffering

MoonlightMore times than I can name, the wayfaring has been a desperate crawl. This is no metaphor, not when 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 inside my head. I could do nothing but weep driving home. Never had I known such blinding pain. I simply 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 opened the mailbox to find an unexpected check for $500 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 this time, He sent me $1000. 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 often are but moments; I know my heart. 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 (my paraphrase), we acknowledge it does. 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 in His surrender to the torment that He redeemed both Himself and His bride, the Church. In the book of Job, our Maker does not apologize. Contrary to what many imagine in times that strain, God does not lament here either – at least, not 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, we bring on more of our troubles than we care to admit. 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 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. We are fellow travelers on this road called suffering. It isn’t a road I want to travel again, but the lessons learned from the journey were amazing. Cancer knocked me flat, but God picked me up and made me a new creation in Him. I am so glad for the journey and the outcome. May He bless your day. Connie

  2. Excellent topic about suffering.
    “We must learn to regard people less in light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

  3. What people need to understand is that Jesus did not promise that it would be easy; he never said that there would be no hardships; Instead He said, ” For I am with you always, even to the end of the world”. We should never forget that the sorrow only lasts for a night and joy comes in the morning. Great piece @Holis. I feel you totally.

    • I really hope it spoke to you, and that you feel richer for it, somehow. Too many of us keep our God small. Blessings and blessings….and thanks for the follow. I hope you can take good things away…. Xx Diana

  4. My heart is full reading this and I just thank God for loving us and I can only say that we serve a God who is faithful and always working things out for our good. I have learned in my walk with being in a place where I needed to walk by faith and not by my sight! I will share my journey of coming from deaths door to regaining my life and watching the Word of God transform my body and mind to receive Gods best! God wants us Well.. Healing is the children’s bread! By His stripes I was already Healed!!

  5. I feel you. As I do a precious sister in the Lord. Yes, do share your story of healing. I love your look back at The Stripes. Thank you so much for the vivid feedback of the full heart. I just don’t know what impact my writing has unless I hear back….(am no mind reader!) I have been backlogged on response to readers – which is why it took me a while to write you. If you don’t hear from me soon, let me know when you’ve written of your healing. Xoxo.

  6. Awesome Blog! I can relate because I was dealing with depression in late 2010 and most of 2011 after losing everything. I had almost ended my life because I thought my life was over but God had stepped in and told me that my life isn’t over. After I got help with my doctor I had decided to write my first book “Walking In God’s Path Toward Your Destination Volume 1” To Change Your Mindset. the purpose of writing this book is to help others who are dealing with depression just like myself. God will help you during your bad times. Also I had to get rid off my so called friends because they were negative and toxic. You story will help others as well. I will pray for your healing. God Bless!

    • Thanks, KM!! What a man of encouragement. It was clips of my 2003 journal excerpts you read (in italics). I mentioned all that was 10 years (almost to the date) that I would start blogging. =) I know your powerful story will further His kingdom, and yes, brother, your life was only beginning when you had wanted to close shop. Because when we are over our bad self God shows Himself ALL THAT, right? And there is so much wisdom in your having drawn boundaries from the negative people around you. Many don’t realize they need to rearrange some furniture in their social life! You might want to chk out a speech by an Afr-Amer poetess on the right margin of my home page under Teaching/Lrng Inspiration “I would love for our kids to write like this” link. She is a PHENOMENON. Amazon!! She makes me so proud of women and Afr-Americans (LOL correct, I’m Korean).

      I think this might speak to your writing talent:

      https://aholisticjourney.wordpress.com/2013/05/20/the-writing-process-color-part-1/

      I look forward to visiting – when I come out from under. I am swamped beneath a pile of writing projects at the moment.

      Blessings and thank you for connecting. Will touch base.

      Diana

    • This is a great blog by Holistic Wayfarer. I can understand the war that goes on in our mind. Each day I have to remind myself that all negative thoughts come from the enemy. It took me several years to realize that even though my circumstances in life may be poor it did not mean my thinking needed to reflective of my life situation. When I started changing the way I thought about situations, the world was a much better place to live in. God Bless you.

  7. This probably a more traditional view of suffering that I would have but then again I have not reached Job yet in my open theist study of Scripture. I don’t see the connection between the canon closing and the miracles of God stopping. I have seen genuine healings so I don’t buy the interpretation because to me, ‘that which is perfect has come” in 1st Cor. 13 is not the Bible but Christ’s kingdom in it full truth.

    I had a mentor who was both a Pentecostal minister and a person who suffered from post-polio syndrome. His belief was that suffering and healing were two sides of the same coin of grace. I don’t know about that, but that was his view. Mine is still on hold until I get to Job and well Christ who not only suffered but also healed people.

    • Thanks so much for taking the time on my posts. I wasn’t speaking for myself throughout, was just offering the Reformed view according to my limited understanding from the teachings I have been exposed to. I also didn’t do justice to that position on miracles, tackling such a huge question in a single post. I have had some funky spiritual experiences and know keenly that there is in a most active, real sense, powerful invisible forces at work this side of heaven. I appreciate your follow, your taking the time to engage when you don’t quite see eye to eye. That is the stuff of – not only blogging but also – real fellowship.

  8. Oh I truly believe the hardships are the blessings, His great mercy is always for me… it could be worse. Someone out there is worse off than me. AND I believe in miracles, because I’ve written about 8 or 9 that have blessed my life! They do still happen, it’s just my life isn’t written in scripture anywhere! hahaha Thank God! Great Post!

    • Yes, I’ve obviously been the beneficiary of miracles. I didn’t do justice to the Reformed perspective on signs and wonders. The post would’ve become a book. And indeed, the grass is not only greener elsewhere, it lies in ruins in other places, as well. Blessings.

    • Sarah! Thank you for the feedback and hearty support. You know you really don’t know how your writing impacts each reader unless you hear back. =) I strive to keep up with my readers but it’s hard with another blog I’m hard at work on. If you happen not to hear back from me down the line, please feel free to rap on my window with any posts you’d like to share. Xx Diana

  9. It took ages to edit that post as I am still new to this and I’m using an iPad which is not as easy to navigate as a computer. I struggle to even express myself but I put myself out there never the less. To have someone find it is glorious. Makes the struggles worth while.. I can only say there are reasons that blow our mind in other ways as to this whole suffering thing. Thank you for the connection today… Means a lot.

  10. When the Lord came to me to open the covering in my eyes. It was then He let me remember everything from the start, that He was here with me since I was a child. Though many times I thought that He left me because my life became so difficult but deep in my heart I was still calling to HIM asking why He would do that to me….

    I became busy with my life just to live together with the world but this world was the one breaking my relationship to Our Father in Heaven. But JESUS never wanted me to be walking without guide anymore and so HE just opened my eyes for me to see HIM, feel HIM, and love HIM above all than the world has to offer…

    All those sickness that I experienced before, it was that time that I witnessed the Healing Power of our LORD through our faith, trust, and believe that HE can heal it , though not instantly , days maybe or months, but the promise HE gave was fulfilled…I did not went to the doctor when I felt that pain in my neck, I don’t know what it is, it maybe a goiter or other related sickness, but I just accepted it and prayed to HIM that HE will come to me and touch me. I carried that for 6months, I did not take any medicine, only the prayer and trust I have with MY Father in HEAVEn and acceptance that if I will die , I will but I want to be with HIM…Every time I pray, the HOLY Spirit would come into my body and touch my neck, and I could feel that there was something inside that slowly moving like a phlegm or a soft ball, then it would pass to my throat down until it was all gone. Many times when I was riding a jeep, my throat became dry and this small ball would want to block it, even I was afraid, I was just praying that it will not succeed in taking my life….and the battle was victorious….many of them was victorious…

    I exchanged my life before for MY LORD JESUS, for even if I am not living the way I live before, but the LOVE of JESUS , HIS PRESENCE, is the most wonderful Gift I have received from HIM. HIS LIGHT keep on shining, through many pains, battles, trials I had faced, the Victorious Battle of the LORD, I have witnessed it in my life was so big that even up to the last breath I had from the time I surrender my life when I was attacked, He was still able to give me HIS BREATH and let me live…The HOLY SPIRIT who taught me to pray the powerful prayers with the ANGELS around me guarding me….

    I created my site, dedicated to JESUS for everything He has done to me, the HOLY FATHEr and the HOLY SPIRIT…There may be embarrassing experienced I had there, the most difficult part of my battle, but I would still share it to the world for the GLORY OF JESUS who has been with me always, helping me to fight and still able to praise HIM and GLORIFY HIS NAME.

    • What a comment. Thank you so much for the gracious encouragement and the follow. I’d like to ask…reservations about what? About following me or something going on with you? I’ll understand if it’s too personal to answer. Blessings.

  11. Thanks for sharing this. I can relate to so much of this. I have felt like Job at times over the last several years but have realized that God allows us on these paths so that He can purify us, strengthen us, and grow our faith.. It is those who have the level of faith that expect the unexpected that will see the miraculous hand of God move. I am so glad that I found your blog. I just started blogging in May and just learning this blog world. I write as the Lord leads me each day and that He will bring whoever He wants to see my blog. Thanks for the support. Please let me know what you think about my postings…. Bless you and thank you for blessing me with your support…

  12. Absolutely LOVE your response:

    “But in the end, theology does not satisfy the cries of the heart. Job 42, right? Where were we when He rolled out the universe and furnished it in spectacle? We are but a vapor, indeed. Not preaching at anyone. J.I. Packer 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 must hang his head in attrition or fit inside my fabrications and understanding is not worthy of worship.”

    AMEN SISTER !! couldn’t have summed it up more perfectly. Rock on ❤

  13. We all suffer in many different ways everyday. But He will not put more than what we can live with. He shall show us the way.

  14. I believe, rather, that He gives us strength commensurate with the load – not the other way around. If he apportioned trials in keeping with our strength, that would be to say we had some strength worthy of merit (which we’ll turn into applause). If we had any worthy strength in the flesh, Christ need not have come.

  15. Hmmm. When we suffer…we easily ask “Why me?” Why all this things happen to me? That we don’t know that God allow this to happen to us because he has reasons. But no sufferings that God give us that we cannot endure cause He is a loving and merciful God.

    Nice blog. really…

  16. As people resulting from the fall of man we can expect to suffer. HOWever, in and through Jesus, should we choose to know Him, we are given the possibility to have or to gain healed life once again. This is a promise, it is a vine we must declare our faith in.
    Jesus healed many who just displayed simple faith in the fact that they believed He could and would heal them. The gosples are full of these. Healing is not stopped. We have stopped believing they apply or pertain to today.
    Today my Church dedicates our prayer and healing room. We have spent the last few months studying to prepare for this event. God’s Word is not dead! He said healing and signs would follow the preaching or telling of the gosple.
    God saves our soul, He also brings salvation to our bodies, healing is that salvation. It is for today even as it was for yesterday because He is the same today, yesterday and forever. May God grant and keep you as you journey in Him. Blessings. M Lane
    Oh yeah, I loved your blog.

    • Thank you SO much for your time reading and responding, and for the follow. I didn’t do justice to the Reformed perspective in this post – couldn’t, in the short space of time. I wasn’t saying God no longer heals physically. I am living proof cats aren’t the only ones He grants nine lives sometimes. The Reformed position is just wary of Christians who lust after signs and wonders when in fact the greatest miracle has come to pass in the Incarnation and His death on the Cross — and along with these, yes, the healing which is our salvation, which you put so well. We do often demand that God meets us on our terms when we’re in a bind. When He’s more than done that on Calvary. But He is so gracious, He continues to heal us at all levels. And conservative believers look upon those miracles of healing in Scripture as part of the presage of the Messiah in the blueprinting of Redemptive history.

      “Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Greeks foolishness.”

      I wish great blessings on the prayer and healing room of your church. And for someone who hated writing, it seems to come prettily easily to you — yes, He enables, doesn’t He? Cheerleading your spiritual prosperity and ministry through the blogging…Diana

  17. I very much appreciate your testimony to the value of suffering. I think our culture is too quick to try and remove all suffering. Paul in Phil 3:10-11 declares that knowing Christ is both suffering and experiencing the power of His resurrection. They are intimately connected. Usually we want the power without the suffering… We have learned much about suffering (and joy!) through our daughter’s illness.

    I have been teaching through Job, too. Maybe you would like my post about chapter 28 that sets up the final chapters you discussed: http://durtonthebible.wordpress.com/2013/07/04/hidden-gem-finding-wisdom-at-the-impasse/

    • Thanks for the feedback, Sean. Yes, glory is the other side of suffering, a truth the disciples did NOT get when the Lord walked with them. They argued over who would get to sit at His right hand – without thought to the Cup first to be drunk. Your insightful post is well written and well mined. I know it’s all become more real to you in light of your girl’s illness. Blessings. Diana

  18. Please let me add a couple of points. We do believe miracles are still happening (at least in the Eastern Orthodox perspective). We see them or hear about them nearly all the time. But on your final point regarding understanding God…you are absolutely right. “A comprehended God is no God at all.” -St. John Chrysostom.

    • I couldn’t do justice to the conservative perspective in a post. I am a living testament to the ever-extant supernatural. Conservative believers often dig their heels in a reaction against the lust for signs, for God to prove Himself on our terms, popular among many evangelical circles: “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified…” Right? Thanks for your time. Blessings.

  19. “Even my most genuine, sweetest moments of repentance may be but moments.”

    I have seen this as such a terrible thing, that I can’t seem to sustain even my sincere repentance nor rightfully uphold my praise in the midst of my suffering.

    This statement coming from you made me feel less unworthy.

    • If we can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps so readily, why did we need the Cross, God Himself to give Himself wholly for us? The gospel IS that we ARE unworthy and remain so…He justifies the day of our believing profession as in this new day of grace. And when I obey the dictates of Flesh, God looks upon me with the love He has for His very Son, because no one can go back and undo that cross. His righteousness – not any gesture of repentance or praise I can muster up – my surety. I appreciate the gracious, honest feedback, L.

  20. The topic presented here is an important one. I attend the school of thought that encourages honesty in one’s discourse with God, so when life delivers a smack down, I yell. God hears and He comforts, but that doesn’t mean He always intervenes to change the pain into something else. Pain has been a faithful instructor for me. I have learned much while in it’s embrace.

  21. I loved reading this..

    Job….is an extraordinary story…I read it while I was in the shelter. I was led to it one day as I opened my Tanakh praying for guidance. And guidance God gave me, he showed me Job.

    • Thx so much, J. I’m glad you were blessed. It’s been an incredible journey being able, being allowed to speak into lives. I appreciate your time here. I strive to make it worthwhile for readers. Diana

  22. Your post on suffering resonates with me. I have several more personal posts on my experience of suffering and my different responses when sitting at the foot of my mother’s cross in her slow dying by inches with Alzheimer’s and mine own to personal rejection by people when traveling in parts of Europe in a wheel chair. I have experienced miraculous healing and witnessed immediate unexplainable ones of friends, so I know God is still doing His wake up thing, which helps me look for the lesson and/or just accept being one with Him in suffering when He doesn’t.
    I can’t express how blessed I feel to have discovered your blog.

  23. Holistic Wayfarer: Thanks for everything in your blog, connecting souls that need to be connected, healing so many painful thoughts… Thanks.
    Nice to meet your holistic journey and read you.

  24. This is a magnificent post, and I learnt so much about you, what you’ve been through. Your response to the blogger at the end is excellent. I’m inspired by you. This really should be Freshly Pressed, this one.

  25. In the OT, faithful believers such as Job were shocked when suffering came their way b/c they reasonably expected God to reward them with prosperity and health. People often ask: “Where is God?” the real question is: “Where are YOU?” The point is faith . . . how are we to respond? God’s raw message to Job was ‘until you know more about running the universe, don’t tell me how to do it.” It’s evident God cares more about our faith than our pleasure. Great post 🙂

  26. “In my book, a God who hangs his head in attrition or must fit inside my fabrications and understanding is not worthy of worship.” To answer this question, he wouldn’t be a God worthy of worship if he fit inside our little box of who we THINK he is. Praise Him, that he’s so much more, than we can fathom or think. Very good post. Blessings Diana I will be back soon to hear from you again. Shazza.

  27. “In my book, a God who hangs his head in attrition or must fit inside my fabrications and understanding is not worthy of worship.” AMEN.

    Thank you… I needed to read this. I needed to get into my head and out of my heart for awhile. My heart sometimes leads me the wrong way …. I blog to share stories, to glorify Christ and tell others of His glorious deeds. Sometimes I don’t address the really deep thoughts and wonderings I have because I don’t want to overwhelm my readers. However, I still think them, just don’t write them. You have shown me I can do both. I loved this Diana. On a lighter note, as one who shares the excellent calling of motherhood with you – You may enjoy my blog post, called “Thank You for Being My Son”. Blessings on your efforts and voice for the Lord. He is GOOD, my sister in Christ. 🙂

  28. God is a God of miracles. I was thinking of that blogger you mentioned who wonders why God doesn’t perform miracles anymore. Well, He does! If one seeks God he will find Him if he seeks Him with all of his (or her) whole heart. I have had dreams and visions that are nothing short of miraculous. The Bible is filled with supernatural dreams, visions, healings, prophecies, and words of knowledge. The problem is that we tend to limit God,and set His priorities aside, instead of seeking Him day and night. I have wasted too much time seeking material things instead of seeking God. Now I want to know God more and more and that means changing my priorities. Anyway, back to your post, Job is a fascinating book. In the end, God blesses Job with more than he had to start with, but never answers the “why” question. I love Job 33: 14-17, which says that God speaks to us in dreams and seals our instructions. He’s the same yesterday, today, and forever. Blessings and thank you for your post.

    • Thanks for the rich input, Sheryl. I, too, have had supernatural experiences. And this cat has nothing less than four lives left. I clarified in the other comments that the Reformed tradition has had a reactionary tendency against the idolatrous insistence on signs and wonders — when the greatest of these is the Cross. Best.

      • I’m not that familiar with the Reformed tradition, except for the emphasis on predestination. I didn’t know that the Reformed church considers signs and wonders idolatrous. I don’t think of the cross as excluding signs and wonders since they continued after the Resurrection and are listed among the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. Of course, anything one puts before God is an idol.

  29. Thank you! In what you have shared here I recognise some of the waypoints along my own journey, things that I didn’t know others experienced. Without being directed here I might never have imagined how these things are dealt with in a religious context. Lots of things to think about.

    • Oh, grateful for the feedback! Love how we connected in this post even apart from a knowing, a particular faith, on your part (sorry if this is a clumsy way to put it). I am excited for the thinking it percolated. Xxxxx Diana

      • Should I say… until now I couldn’t understand the point of religion. Faith – yes, no problem, I can’t live without it. But the disaffection with religious concepts has denied me a certain commonality of human experience. This post has provided a bridge – a taste of what people find in belief.

      • Wow. Part of what I meant to express was that faith must be rooted in truth. At least A truth. Just faith, just believing doesn’t really get you far – not when you’re eating gravel (a line I ended up deleting from the last poem The Wayfaring as a minimalist in the writing. Didn’t want to overdo the imageries of hardship).

      • Faith must be rooted in truth, yes. I agree, otherwise, what the hell is it other than a fancy word for belief? The french lady at the coffee shop I visit gave me a compliment this morning. Apellar un chat un chat… calling a cat a cat. For some reason, the gift of my life is that even when I don’t understand, the truth shines through and I don’t waste much time trying to deny it just because it doesn’t fit. The people in my daily life rely on this quality, but I rarely see it in others.

        I encourage you not to hold back. It encourages those of us who can’t live without the truth.

      • “I encourage you not to hold back. It encourages those of us who can’t live without the truth.”

        Oh dear. I’m getting chills.

        Thank you so much for your time and the deep pleasure of our exchange.

        Xxxxx Diana

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