Is there room in our theology for suffering?
It is interesting when we think about the cushiness of American culture. For the most part, we have grown up in relative ease compared to other countries. We don’t have to be concerned about a national famine. Our country is not worn torn. We do not live under a dictatorship. A majority of Americans can go to the store and choose from a plethora of products that people in other countries would dream of. By every historic and global standard, we are incredibly wealthy in the United States.
With wealth comes a potential curse. The curse is entitlement. In our heart of hearts, we believe life should be easy. Ingrained in our minds is the belief that we deserve comfort and stability. It is something that is promised to us from an early age. The American dream can be ours if we put our minds to it. So, we grow up with this notion that suffering should be the exception rather than the norm. More so, we are taught that suffering can be minimized if not eliminated through hard work and perseverance. And, to be honest, a little bit of money goes a long way towards avoiding suffering.
This is a myth and I think we know it.
Throughout our life, we will encounter difficulties. In some cases, they are a result of our own actions – a poor financial decision or a selfish act. In other cases, they are outside of our control. We receive poor health news. Even though we work hard our company is downsized leading to unemployment. A relationship in the family becomes strained and we have to pick up the pieces.
Life is difficult.
My wife recently showed me a video of some Sudanese Lost Boys. These are young boys who left their worn torn country in the hopes of finding freedom. They walked thousands of miles through horrific conditions. Many of them died as they attempted to cross rivers. Others succumbed to starvation. Those that survived eventually arrived in a refugee camp where they found food and safety. Quite a number of the survivors were able to come to the United States where they got jobs and security. One of the young men when interviewed made an incredibly challenging statement, “I am called a lost boy. But I am not lost from God. I am lost from my parents.” There was no resentment or bitterness over the suffering. In fact, there were very few comments made on it. To him, suffering was part of life; the focus was on God’s love. God was present with him thus he had hope. For him, suffering was not in conflict with God’s love. It was in the midst of the suffering.
We oftentimes view God’s love and suffering in conflict rather than intertwined. God must not love us if we are encountering pain. This is entitlement talking. It is American culture framing our theology. The end result is inevitable disappointment when the inevitable difficulty comes.
Paul talks heavily about joy in the book of Philippians while he was in chains. Pain and joy were able to coexist at the same time. There was room for suffering in his theology. Is there room in ours?
“I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.” Philippians 3:10