Hope that Suffers
"The crucified God takes believers on a journey into earth, into its pain and suffering, and finds in that journey not the holiness of pain but the wonder of life's power to persist and transform." -Mark LewisHow often do we mess it up? Someone is in need, they're suffering, and in our vast and unparalleled wisdom we speak... we say something like, "they're in a better place," "It's part of God's plan," or "it's not all that bad." We try to explain away their pain. We try to fix it. We give them the solution that, as far as we're concerned, should put an end to the tears. We buy in to the false logic that says that all human suffering has a quick-fix, it al can be explained, so cheer up, it's time to get on with your life.
If we didn't learn it from the book of Job, we should be able to learn it from Jesus... not all human suffering has a clear explanation. Not all of it can be rationalized. Some of it is truly senseless. And God heals it, not by glorifying it or explaining it away, but by 'experiencing' it, assuming it, immersing into it. In the same way, often our most effective reparative actions are less about "action" per se and more about presence. Much more powerful is a silent and loving presence than a clearly articulated solution or explanation.
A friend of mine recently told me that God is just too powerful for us to worry about the suffering and brokenness that surrounds us. What he meant was that we shouldn't allow suffering to damage our faith, God is too powerful for us to lose hope. But when we imply that faith and hope in God should lead us away from suffering or direct our attention away from brokenness, we drastically pervert the kind of hope we find in the crucified Christ who has resurrection as his future. Christian hope doesn't direct our attention away from suffering and death, but even more urgently it takes us on a journey into it, to discover there the life-giving presence of God.
Even Jesus, who the evangelists insist has a solution (or is the solution) to the existential tragedies of sin and death, doesn't dismiss or trivialize human suffering just because he can fix the problem. When his friend Lazarus dies, though Jesus is of course going to raise him again, Jesus still weeps. He is the resurrection, he says, and yet he weeps for his friend. For Jesus bears the suffering of his friends even when the solution is on the table. Christian hope is a hope that suffers.... and then comes resurrection.
If we think that an explanation or a solution will save the day, then we'll be dumbfounded and paralyzed when we come across the kind of suffering that cannot be explained, that has no solution. We'll defer to those issues for which we have an explanation and we'll leave the crucified cursed on their crosses. Christian faith, Christian hope relies not on a solution but on a presence (and for that presence to be the solution). We rely wholly and solely on God's solidarity with us in our anguish. For what is assumed in God is redeemed in us. Because when our experience becomes God's experience, then God's future becomes our future.
If "hope" or "faith" ever lead you to ignore, trivialize, justify, or suppress the suffering of the world, then I am skeptical that it may be false hope and misdirected faith. God heals us not from outside our suffering but from within it.