Sufferings of this Present Time

By Fred Pruitt


Dear Fred,

When you have time, I sure need help with this one.  Maybe I should just throw it in a universal pile but can't seem to get comfortable with that.

Question - How do we apply Norman's  "What are you up to?" question to God in situations such as our soldiers that may end up suffering.....  diseased,  maimed, tortured etc. ?  Somehow the dying part seems easier.

Dear ______,

Sorry to take so long to get back to you. I've been thinking about your question since I got it. But there certainly has been a lot of other things going on this week, especially since President Bush announced his not-too-surprising ultimatum last night.

I don't think any "pat" answer will do for any of us right now. You say you have trouble putting this suffering into the category of "the universal" and I absolutely understand what you mean.

Did you ever see a movie called "The Last Temptation of Christ"? It came out in the late 80's and was almost universally condemned by evangelicals and fundamentalists, most of whom never saw the movie. But I make no secret of being something of a rebel, so I rented the video and watched it at home.

In the movie, Jesus' "last temptation," as he is being crucified, takes him in his imagination into an entirely "other" life, where, instead of taking the road to Calvary, he instead rejects the call to be the Messiah and ends up having sex with Mary Magdalene, marrying her, having a family, and living out his life as all the rest of humanity does. In the end, though, He fulfills his "mission" and dies on the Cross. It was done by Martin Scorcese. I thought it one of the best statements on "temptation" ever made.

I think Jesus is called the "man of sorrows" by Isaiah for many reasons.

One of them is that the life of the Cross precludes a life where we are free from the responsibility to save others. The responsibility to save others (in whatever form) necessarily involves "sacrifice" on our part, of one kind or another. For Rees Howells it was to let his children at one point be raised by others. For Norman Grubb it was to see his first child die of malnutrition in the Congo jungle, as well as an estrangement from his other children because of his chosen life to be always on the road, almost never at home (for them). For others of us it can be a thousand other things. But there is always sadness, sorrow, involved. To live the life of the Cross, in order to give to some, it seems others are neglected or not given to. Sometimes those we are closest to get the least of us.

Another reason Jesus is called the man of sorrows, I think, is because once the power of Love overtakes you, the sorrows of the world are magnified to an infinite degree. There is just SO MUCH of it.

Disasters, natural calamities, wars, as well as injustice, hunger, cruelty, unkindness, and intentional violence are so pervasive in the world, even here in Louisville, Kentucky, that is almost overwhelming and far too much to bear. People, through no fault of their own, are born into despair. Born into hunger, violence, repression, poverty -- and I don't mean just the physical when I speak of hunger, violence, poverty, etc. There is also the hunger, violence, repression, and poverty of the soul or spirit.

There is also sorrow and sadness because there seems to be no answer. For those suffering physical privation, such as the kind you mentioned, it seems a callous answer to tell them to see all is well and good and whole, when they are screaming in agony from pain and flailing about in anger over why this could happen to them.

God seems far away or non-existent in the face of the unbelievable enormity of human suffering on this planet. Doesn't He care?

People might say, good Christians, that man brought all this on himself by disobeying God, and the suffering in this life is the just punishment for our sins.

But Paul said that the creation was made subject to vanity, not by its own volition, but by the will of God.

In order to lay a foundation for hope.

And I think we have to bear that in mind.

Many years ago, Janis & I went horseback riding. I was used to bicycles, but not horses too much. So when I got close to a ditch with the horse, I got a little scared and attempted to coax the horse away from the ditch. What I didn't realize, however, is that the horse, being a somewhat intelligent living creature, and not an inanimate device like a bicycle, wanted to avoid the ditch as much as I wanted him to. I've gotten a wealth of understanding from that horse-ride.

We as parents agonize over our children, especially when they have a hard time. As much when they're "adults" as when they were small -- perhaps more so. We want so much for them to make it, to make lives for themselves, to be happy, fulfilled, etc. We pray, we try to teach them the right way as much as we know how, we give advice, sought and unsought, but in the end, if we're smart, we realize three things: one, it's up to them entirely; and two, just like the horse, they don't want to fall in the ditch any more than we want them to; and three, God is "individual" with them even as He is with us.

When you ask the question about how to include the suffering which may be the result of this war into the "universal," I'm thinking the answer may be not to put it into some universal theory of "all things work together for good" which is nice to hear at times that you need it, but sometimes it doesn't help. The answer may be to put it right smack-dab into the individual.

If a man has his legs blown off, horrid horrid to consider, will God come to him in His suffering? Will grace be available that is greater than the suffering of losing his legs? If little children are orphaned and driven to a squalid camp of refugees, is God there, and does He meet them one by one? In conditions which are too horrible for our minds to comprehend, can the love of God somehow be seen in the midst?

Jesus said that the Father knows when sparrows fall, and how many hairs we have on our head. In other words, He knows us individually, everyone of us on the face of the earth. Therefore we MUST also believe, that if we've found in some measure His love for ourselves, "God loves ME?", then we can also believe in His individual love and care for every other human being on the planet, regardless or country, race, religion, politics, culture, or social standing.

This is where my "horse analogy" comes in. I thought I had to "control" the horse, to make sure he didn't stumble into the ditch. But the horse had a mind of his own, and had no intention of stumbling into the ditch, even if I had tried to make him do so. The suffering of the world can't be "controlled" by you or me; it will come, and it will come to all in some measure. And each individual can respond the grace that comes with it.

The "sufferings," shared in common by all humanity -- when you suffer I suffer and visa versa -- ARE the sufferings of Christ, the sorrows of the Man of sorrows. But as we are all common in our shared sufferings, so also is the Man of Sorrows the Light that lights every man that comes into the world. Nothing is unnoticed, and Grace manifests in every individual who seeks it. And the "sufferings" cause us to seek it.

And darkness or light, sorrow or joy, the One God is manifest in all.

What I'm saying, is two things: one, I trust God in the individual, as much as in the universal. I see Christ manifest in His sufferings for the world in starving children, repressed humanity, in wounded and dying men in battle. Second, it is ALL the Cross, Calvary through the blood of Christ which dripped into the molecules of the earth below the Cross, which has since gone over the face of the earth into the very air we breathe and food we eat; the blood of Christ is physically still with us. The blood of forgiveness, or reconciliation, of Jesus' final intercession: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Like in Dali's painting, the Cross stands over the WHOLE WORLD, bringing Life out of death wherever it is manifest and revealed.

It is a very hard time on the earth right now. But we are about resurrection unto new life, and this we declare. Like Paul, we know only one thing: "For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified."

Thanks for writing and your always kind words toward me. God's bountiful grace be upon you!