Tag Archives: pain

Trust to hope

Let me tell you something my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane–Red in Stephen King’s The Shawshank Redemption

Farewell. Look for your friends, but do not trust to hope. It has forsaken these lands–Éomer in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Two Towers

For we walk by faith, not by sight—2 Corinthians 5:7


Reader response to A view from the darkness was notable. It came in the form of email and personal conversation rather than blog comments—probably because of the intensely personal and emotional nature of suffering. It was clear to me that the topic resonated. Unfortunately, this suggests that suffering is as pervasive a part of the human experience as we probably suspect.

In that post I tried to address God’s faithfulness to us, particularly in the darkness—his promises.  Today, I will do my best to describe what I think our role is—how we signal our desire to have an encounter with God. In so doing, I think we’ll see the importance of the larger life narrative to which we ascribe—the robust description of the world (discussed in Which reality, whose philosophy?) that dictates how each of us interprets events.

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One of the great things about blogging, as opposed both to other forms of media and to life, is that you can edit over time.  Once a newspaper article is printed, your only hope of revision is the little “corrections” box in the next day’s paper.  And as we all know, there’s no revision in life. We can die in the despair of “if I only this” or “had I not that” but there are no do-overs.

I doubt many of you know this (I feel lucky to have you read once), but I obsessively re-read and edit inklingz posts. Most changes are for style or readability, but recently a loyal reader asked if I realized I had altered A view from the darkness in a more material way.  She told me it initially read as if I hoped there was something to find in the darkness and later read with more certainty that indeed we will find God in the darkness.

Had something changed in my thinking?

My knee-jerk response was: Of course not!…I was merely trying to more effectively capture what I wanted to express all along. But on a long run this week (where I accomplish a good amount of my thinking these days), I realized something about faith that is difficult to quantify or explain: God meets those who take a step toward Him in faith, in such a way that faith itself is multiplied.

When I looked into the darkness last week, I can’t tell you I saw much but the thick black of a moonless night. But I also knew there was something I could not see and I was doing my best to reach for it.

I ‘knew’ because of the larger life narrative in which I believe. It allows me to look beyond my immediate circumstances and see a story playing out that suggests that each moment is more than just another moment in a set of disparate, meaningless events (see On the (in?)significance of what we do—two perspectives).

It reminds me of an illustration discussed in Exclusivism that welcomes all—of blind men each touching a portion of an elephant. Each one comes to a unique conclusion as to what he’s encountered—none of them able, based on his limited viewpoint, to identify the massive animal.

Similarly, when we see no light in the darkness we’re not seeing the full picture, the larger narrative.

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A view from the darkness

God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.

C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

Imagine at the age of 13, (you) can bury (your friends)—it was so difficult, so bad…

It was as if…maybe (it was) that day, the Last Day as people say in the Bible…(when) Jesus Christ will come and whatever on earth will be judged. That was my imagination.

I thought that God grew tired of people on earth here, got tired of bad deeds, the bad things we are doing; but God is watching over us. I thought God got tired of us and wanted to finish us.

When I think of it back…it was so bad anyway.  You can even think of—you can even regret why you were born.

Now I wonder… Now, I am again wearing clothes and feeling very happy, so everything has an end. Even if there is a problem in Sudan still, maybe one day, one time, one minute…it will come to an end…we really suffered.

—John Bul Dau, Sudanese refugee in God Grew Tired of Us

Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.

–Albert Camus

It seems to me that if God is the Light (of the world) many claim him to be, He would be most findable in the darkness. Perhaps he is; for the stories of many encounters with Him are borne from dark moments in the circumstances of those who claim to have found him. And yet, it’s as easy to find stories of those who stare into the darkness and find only unending darkness.

This week I came across the accounts of two men who stared into the darkness: Harold J. Berman and Charles Templeton. Berman was Jewish, taught law at Harvard for 37 years and at Emory University for two decades. He had an encounter with God on a train while fleeing Germany on the announcement of Hitler’s invasion into Poland (excellent account here). Templeton was a popular preacher in his early life, working along-side Billy Graham. Later, he struggled to reconcile pain and suffering with his notion of a loving God; and consequently abandoned his faith.

Berman believed Hitler’s invasion marked the end of civilization and in that darkness encountered Jesus Christ. But it was that very darkness that kept Templeton up at night. He was never able to reconcile it with the loving God of Judeo/Christian teaching.  He died in his unbelief, still asking questions, but not as if he expected they could be answered (Lee Stroebel, The Case for Faith).

Same darkness, two views.

Then, no matter where I seemed to look this week, I was confronted with the questions of brokenness, pain, loss, guilt and suffering. I heard from a dear friend whose marriage is failing and another who had a friend die in an unlikely accident. “The world still needed him,” he told me; “He was one of my best friends.”

I listened to the stories of a friend who recently went on a Christian mission to Africa—tales of witches, demon-possession, four-headed snakes and terminal illnesses—realities for these children that rivaled fears most of us face only in our nightmares. Yet, she expressed a remarkable sense of God’s power in the midst of evils she had not previously known existed.

On a personal note, it has been a difficult week as well—contemplating losses I have recently suffered and recognizing my failures in attempts to love those most dear to me. I will confess I get tired of myself sometimes; I just get sick of being me and of the mistakes I am so prone to repeat.

The brokenness of this world is expressed in many ways. There is much suffering.

In times of relative good, it’s possible to have a nice (congenial and interesting?) philosophical debate over the problem of suffering. Does all the good in the world (see here, here and here) argue more convincingly the case for a loving God than all the bad in the world argues against it?

There are certainly reasonable arguments against the notion of a loving God based on the world’s seemingly meaningless and arbitrary suffering (How can God be both all-loving and all-powerful and yet allow so much pain?). But there are also thoughtful responses (If we can agree that God knows infinitely more than we do, can we refute the possibility that all suffering will be righted in the end; that his promised redemptive purposes will be realized either through or in spite of such suffering?).

But in the darkest of times, when we feel the cold, dark shadow overtake us—of loneliness or loss or guilt or shame or hopelessness or unanswered questions that keep us up at night—philosophical discussions tend to offer little peace. In the darkest moments of the soul, it seems our intellect is of little use. It’s in those times when we seek comfort, not solutions—an ear, not an answer; a friend, not a theory.

Why does God (seem to?) do nothing? How can we see Him in the darkness?

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