Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Where is God when my life features suffering and affliction?

A reflection on the reality of suffering in life

I have to admit that I have been asked, in a rather upfront way sometimes, whether I get angry with God for my current state of physical impairment and which is the result of an unfortunate accident that occured back on 24 May this year when I was struck by a driver who was driving his vehicle on the road I was exercising on.  

Even when I reflect on that question right now, I am not able to summon enough honesty to say that I have that part of me that is truly angry with God for inflicting this on me.  We don’t have to be philosophers to come to the conclusion that whether we live rightly or wrongly, whether we are disciples of Jesus or not, bad things that cause sufferings to us will still come to us in life.  And it will not reflect well on us if we come to the sorry conclusion that it is because we have lived a “wrong” or “unjust” life, that we are in the state of suffering and affliction our lives are in.  Just look around and realise that even in the face of natural disasters like the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and following Tsunami, there were 227,898 people who lost their lives in the flooding that occured.  It is too simple to say that all those nearly 230,000 people lived lives that were “wrong” or “unjust” leading them to be killed in the unfortunate way they died.  It would be too easy to just say that God wasn’t with them in their pain and suffering.  That would be too easy and not true as far as God’s justice is concerned.  

Does God get touched or moved when lives are lost in this world?  I think we only need to look at Sacred Scripture to get some evidence that God isn’t unmoved when lives are lost.  One distinct passage is from John chapter 11, where Jesus physically encounters his friend Lazarus who died.  The text makes it clear that Jesus was “once more deeply moved” or that “he groaned in himself”.  Was Jesus getting too emotional at human death?  In the Greek, the gospel writer meant to say that Jesus “bellowed with anger”.  It is an emotional gem because it reveals what was going on inside of the Son of God who came to rescue creation from the absurdity of death and its emptiness.  Here in this episode, Jesus comes face to face with death when a good friend of his is breathing no longer.  Jesus knew at that time that he was going to change the grieving and mourning into whoops of joy and wonder when he raises Lazarus from the dead.  

Why is he furious?  Jesus was brought to confront how unnatural the evil of death is and Jesus burned with rage against how oppressive death is toward all men.  Jesus allowed fury at the reality of death to affect his decomposition of person and to display his being perturbed.

We need to be clear that part of God’s plan was for Jesus to put a positive end even to death, and to put behind death him who has the power of death in human lives, which is he whom Jesus came to destroy.  John Calvin was clear that though tears filled his eyes, Jesus’ soul is held by rage and he advanced toward the tomb of Lazarus like “a champion who prepares for conflict”.  What is really uncovered is the heart of Jesus as he wins for us our salvation.  Of course the final straw still hadn’t been drawn, because that would happen when Jesus himself carries the Cross up to Calvary to face his own being put to death.  In this incident of Jesus confronting the pain of the death of Lazarus, we are shown how Jesus felt for us in our oppression in life and what he does to gain our redemption.

When I read something like this in my present situation, I am greatly encouraged because I know that God really is with me no matter how I may be feeling in life.  It empowers me to fully believe that God hasn’t left me alone in my affliction ad that he does care for my despite the fact that I am right now still not able to fully exercise my Priestly Ordination in Liturgy as yet.  I am looking forward to the day when my surgeons tell me that it is truly ok for me to return to the parish to live and work as an ordained priest and to serve the people I am sent to.  

It is good to remember that Jesus is truly furious at evil, death and suffering in all its forms and that he has never been mad at God the Father for what human beings experience through all of them.  Jesus’ great mission on this earth as a human being was to take evil on and to end it.  Evil, is however, deeply set in the human heart and if Christ had come to destroy it everywhere he found it, he would have to destroy us as well.  Jesus’ true power was displayed when he went in weakens to the cross on Calvary so as to pay for our sins, and the ultimate will be his return to wipe out all evil without having to judge us as well.  We musn’t forget that he will be able to receive us because he bore our judgement himself on Calvary.

It would be good if one day I will be able to share this truth in a presentation where my parishioners will be present.  It’s a truth that I would want all disciples of Christ to truly understand and accept it in their hearts, simply because no one in life is completely free from sufferings and afflictions.  It is a liberating truth that all disciples need to hear spoken with conviction.

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