Advent 2012 Day 14 A Theology Compatible with Suffering

vigilI am heartbroken. As I struggle for words to add anything to the many voices that have already articulated our societal voice of sadness, grief and outrage so well, I was reminded of one thing: that ours must be a faith that is able to stand the realities of this world. Or it is good for nothing. No doubt some, even Christians, will shake their fist at God and demand. “Where were you?” This belies our belief that God is here to serve us and make us happy (by manipulating our circumstances) as if that were the ultimate goal. The reality that our faith must embrace is…in this broken world not that all will be well….but that we will be well. In the tragedy and pain of our lives (this is the reality of our lives!) we are not alone. As I wrote in the following repost, there is a God (the God of Christmas, incarnate in Jesus) who meet us, stays with us and transforms us through the pain.

Let me say right up front….I am not a theologian. I don’t have the smarts to even enter the ring with those who are. But…It seems to me that a lot of people hold to a theology of God that is not compatible with suffering. It is not compatible with the wounds and pain we receive in this life. They may not verbalize such a belief and even espouse a different belief about God but when crisis comes, what they thought they believed about God comes into question. For pain has a way of stripping away all our illusions of God. When everything starts to fall apart, often so does our sense of reality. God is not who we thought he was. But the problem isn’t God, it’s our theology of him.

For if we hold to the belief that God must bend to our claim of achieving our cherished dreams, suffering is seen as a betrayal. At worst, it calls God’s honor and intent toward us into question. If we believe God’s promises are to be secured for our prosperity, suffering has to be denied. If our faith is only a belief system it only takes one night of pain to realize there is no comfort or security when suffering that reeks havoc in our soul.

Too often our only thought in suffering is how we can get out of it, or how we can manipulate God to do something about it, instead of turning to the God who meet us, stays with us and transforms us through the pain.

I can’t tell you how many people I’ve prayed with for physical healing. Now I believe God still performs miracles of healing and I am glad to be part of a denomination that does as well. I’ve witnessed miraculous healings and encourage those who are sick to ask others to pray with them for their healing. But too often they are so intent on receiving physical healing, they miss wholeness God offers in the midst of their pain. They miss the deep contentment, confidence and joy he wants to bring into their daily existence. God wants to be our healer but he want to be so much more. If we allow it to, pain can become a place where we encounter God.

As Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “For those willing to stay awake, pain remains a reliable altar in the world, a place to discover that a life can be as full of meaning as it is of hurt.”

  1. As I read this, chills- Gail. I wish I could have understood this about 10 years ago. I really want to be aware of God’s presence amidst my pain. My relationship with God is looking different. I’m asking for different things now. Thank you for this post and all the others. They are helping me so much make this Christmas season what I missed out on last year. Love to you…


  2. really great post! sounds like you are a theologian to me, and a fine one at that! which book is the Brown quote in? blessings. (fyi: i came across your blog via shari dolleman posting it on facebook. I went to Jr High and Highschool and church with her).


    1. Brian, Her book is titled, “An Altar int he World.” Thank you for your encouraging words.


  3. Two days ago I received news that one of my dearest friends and avid supporter of my “many ideas”, just passed from this earth after a painful battle with cancer. I want to honor her as she suffered graciously. She did not blame God or anyone. The last few days of her life here, as she was in and out of consciousness. Her spirit seemed to be pulled toward heaven but then brought back to earth again. When she was conscious she shared with her family and friends the wonderful things she had seen when she had a foot hold in heaven. Her last few days before that she was telling stories and joking with her family even though she knew the end was near and she would have to relinquish the care of her children and grandchildren she so cherished. I honor Linda as she suffered with grace and passed on a beautiful inheritance to her girls and her four sweet grandchildren. The suffering polished her to a beautiful gem worth more than anything she could have achieved other wise.


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