Archive for Suffering

How long, O Lord?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on January 14, 2010 by stephengardner

The brokenness of the world has once again been horribly exposed through the devastating earthquake that has ripped apart Haiti. The world is counting an unimaginably high death toll, and once again the dead and missing are from one of the poorest nations on earth.

How do you make sense of such pain and horror? How does God fit into the picture?

I think Christians often feel the pull to speak quickly and sensibly about such horror. Often in blatantly offenseive and untruthful ways, as demonstrated by Pat Robertson today, but more often than not in less stupid ways. In ways that try to make sense of the pain and horror.

In the past I’ve posted some thoughts on this, but for a far better response you should read Byron Smith’s incredibly insightful series of reflections on Theodicy & the need for eschatology. Byron’s deep conviction is that we must resist to give evil a place in this world, we must resist the temptation to make sense of suffering. This is precisely because evil and suffering make no sense in this world because they are enemies of God that will be finally removed from the created order when Jesus returns.

I have found Byron’s thoughts on this immensely helpful, but there are also some other great books out there offering a similar position. Check out David Bentley Hart’s The Doors of the Sea and N. T. Wright’s Evil and the Justice of God.

Reflections on Holy Saturday IV

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on August 28, 2009 by stephengardner

Reflecting on the sheer darkness and hopelessness of Holy Saturday, I have argued, is necessary for working out a distinctly Christian worldview that has the strength to deal with the necessary problem of suffering. Every worldview must say something about this problem. What does Christianity offer? and particularly, what does Holy Saturday have to offer such a worldview?

christ_entombedThe Long Silence, offers us a helpful start in answering this question. The thing that gives Christianity credibility when faced with the open wound of suffering is the fact that God has suffered. At this point, Christianity offers a unique approach to the problem of suffering. Every other worldview falls short. Think of the following examples.

Buddhism — In a nutshell, attempts to offer a solution to suffering by suggesting that it is not real, it is an illusion. Suffering only exists as long as our desires do, so eliminate desire and you will eliminate suffering.

Hinduism — Its solution suggests that individual acts of suffering are the direct result of a person’s acts from a previous life. Every act of suffering in this life is evidence of Karma.

Islam — Doesn’t offer a solution, in the same way the other examples do, but insists that every instance of suffering and horror is the direct will of Allah. It is Allah’s chosen will that these things happen in this way.

But think for a moment; what do each of these worldviews have to say to parents who find themselves burying their two year old daughter after a horrible battle with Leukemia?

‘Its not really happening’, ‘she deserved it’, or, ‘God wanted this to happen.’

God knows her pain and the pain of her parents, he is with that little girl in death. God is in solidarity with us when we experience the pain this world offers. Of course, this isn’t the whole story of Christian worldview. But, to say it again, before we move on, it is worth pausing and asking what God was doing on Holy Saturday. Because there in the tomb, is something distinctly Christian.

Reflections on Holy Saturday III

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on August 20, 2009 by stephengardner

caravaggio_01How does pausing to reflect on Holy Saturday help form a Christian worldview? Particularly, how do we form such a worldview in the face of the ‘open wound of suffering’? That is the task of the next two posts.

I hope this story will help. Its called The Long Silence.

At the end of time, billions of people were scattered on a great plain before God’s throne. Some of the groups near the front talked heatedly — not with cringing shame, but with belligerence.
“How can God judge us?” “How can He know about suffering?” snapped a joking brunette. She jerked back a sleeve to reveal a tattooed number from a Nazi concentration camps. “We endured terror, beatings, torture, death!”
In another group, a black man lowered his collar. “What about this?” he demanded, showing an ugly rope burn. “Lynched for no crime but being black!” “We have suffocated in slave ships, been wrenched from loved ones, toiled till only death gave release.”
Far out across the plain were hundreds of such groups. Each had a complaint against God for the evil and suffering He permitted in His world. How lucky God was to live in heaven where all was sweetness and light, where there was no weeping, no fear, no hunger, no hatred. “Indeed, what did God know about what man had been forced to endure in this world?” “After all, God leads a pretty sheltered life.” they said.

So each group sent out a leader, chosen because he had suffered the most. There was a Jew, a black, an untouchable from India, an illegitimate, a person from Hiroshima, and one from a Siberian slave camp. In the center of the plain they consulted with each other. At last they were ready to present their case. It was rather simple: Before God would be qualified to be their judge, He must endure what they had endured. Their decision was that God “should be sentenced to live on earth — as a man!”

But, because He was a god, they set certain safeguards to be sure He could not use His divine powers to help himself.

Let him be born a Jew.
Let the legitimacy of His birth be doubted, so that none will know who is really his father. Let Him champion a cause so just, but so radical, that it brings down upon Him the hate, condemnation, and eliminating efforts of every major traditional and established religious authority.
Let Him try to describe what no man has ever seen, tasted, heard, or smelled — let Him try to communicate God to humanity.
Let Him be betrayed by His dearest friends.
Let Him be indicted on false charges, tried before a prejudiced jury, and convicted by a cowardly judge.
Let Him see what it is to be terribly alone and completely abandoned by every living thing.
Let Him be tortured and let Him die! Let Him die the most humiliating death with common thieves.
As each leader announced his portion of the sentence, loud murmurs of approval went up from the great throng of people. When the last had finished pronouncing sentence, there was a long silence. No one uttered another word. No one moved. For suddenly all knew……..God had already served His sentence.”

Reflections on Holy Saturday II

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on August 14, 2009 by stephengardner


Then Joseph bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb.  Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was laid (Mark 15.46-47 NRSV).

Holy Saturday is a day of total bleakness, there is no future, only pain and broken hopes. Israel, it would appear, is not going to be redeemed. The Christ has been nailed to a tree and now buried under the earth, Joseph, who had been expecting the Kingdom, gathered the body of his messiah and laid him in his tomb. Right here is a problem. The problem of suffering and broken promises.We can learn much about the problem of suffering by pausing and reflecting on that dark day, between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

Here resurrection is not permitted to verge upon the cross, instantaneously converting its death into life, still less to trespass death’s own borders and thus to identify the cross with glory. Instead, death is given time and space to be itself, in all its coldness and helplessness. (Lewis: 2001, 37)

Too often Christian theology makes light of suffering by immediately jumping to the future glory, or by looking for the ‘greater good’ that can be seen in the present. The problem of suffering remains a problem, and it must remain a problem. It is inevitable and indiscriminate, it disturbs our existence, invades our peace and destroys hopes. What is needed is a worldview that doesn’t pretend this isn’t the case. Rather, we need a worldview that acknowledges the inevitability of suffering and darkness.

God and suffering belong together, just as in this life the cry for God and the suffering experienced in pain belong together. The question about God and the question about suffering are a joint, common question… It is not really a question at all, in the sense of something we can ask or not ask, like other questions. It is the open wound of life in this world. It is the real task of faith and theology to make it possible for us to survive, to go on living, with this open wound. (Moltmann: 1981, 49)

By pausing and feeling the darkness of Holy Saturday much can be achieved in helping us to survive ‘with this open wound.’ How such a task will help form such a worldview is the goal of the next post.

Reflections on Holy Saturday I

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on August 7, 2009 by stephengardner


The confusion, pain and sorrow of Holy Saturday seems an appropriate metaphor for the age in which we live. All too often our lives are interrupted by horror, we have become too familiar with ethnic cleansing, terrorism and tsunamis. And, at a personal level, our relationships are scarred. We feel the rejection of those who should welcome us, and we, ourselves, reject those we should accept.Where is God in all of this? What difference has Jesus made?
These questions, I’m sure, would have been echoed by those close to Jesus as he lay in the tomb on that Saturday. We get a glimpse of their disappointment as two of them set out for Emmaus on Easter Sunday.

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem,  and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them,  but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.  And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people,  and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.

Like those first disciples, we often feel the disappointment of unanswered questions – ‘what has happened to the redemption Jesus promised?’ – ‘what difference has he made to my life now?’

Yet, we live with a certainty that was not present on Holy Saturday. What happened that Easter Sunday as the disicples walked with this mysterious stranger? The realisation of his glorious vindication, triumph and transforming power. Its this tension I hope to explore a little over the next week or so, reflecting on Holy Saturday as a metaphor for the present day. To borrow a phrase from Alan Lewis, we stand between yesterday and tomorrow.