Friday, March 21, 2008

A Suffering God

One month ago, National Public Radio's Fresh Air Program turned the public eye to a former pastor, Bart Ehrman, who wrote a book entitled God's Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer the Most Important Question - Why We Suffer. In his book, Ehrman explains his journey from faith to agnosticism. He writes, "I could no longer reconcile the claims of faith with the facts of life. In particular, I could no longer explain how there can be a good and all-powerful God actively involved with this world, given the state of things. For many people who inhabit this planet, life is a cesspool of misery and suffering. I came to a point where I simply could not believe that there is a good and kindly disposed Ruler who is in charge of it."

Certainly many theologians throughout Judeo-Christian history have sought to explain how a sovereign and loving God could allow so much brokenness, hurt and raw pain in this life. I have found some of these explanations to be helpful. But I will readily admit that from the tiny and small amount of suffering that I have experienced in life, no intellectual argument can begin to assuage the questions when all I know is the screaming and all-consuming cry of pain.

I am not sure if it would be intellectually honest for anyone to say that they understand suffering and its allowance completely. The collective human experience unites us all at that point of pain where we have stared to the heavens, asked "Why?" and wondered at God's silence.

Though I understand Ehrman's intellectual struggle to make sense of the mystery of suffering, I earnestly believe that what we lack in comprehension from the silence of God, we have been given in assurance from the life of the Incarnate God.

The Incarnate God knows loneliness, he knows betrayal, he knows blood-drawing scourging, he knows hatred, he knows the pounding of nails and the ripping apart of flesh. But, somehow, most amazingly, most incomprehensibly, the Incarnate God knows what it means to be immersed in the deepest of suffering, to look toward Heaven and shout, with the rest of us fallen creatures, "Oh, God, why hast Thou forsaken me? Why are you silent toward the words of my groaning?"

Herein is consolation. We cannot search the mind of a God whose hand does not obliterate pain. But, we are allowed to see, on this day above all days, that when we look intently upon that mysterious hand of God, we find, not an iron fist, but a nail-bored hole.

The Silence of God

It's enough to drive a man crazy; it'll break a man's faith
It's enough to make him wonder if he's ever been sane
When he's bleating for comfort from Thy staff and Thy rod
And the heaven's only answer is the silence of God

It'll shake a man's timbers when he loses his heart
When he has to remember what broke him apart
This yoke may be easy, but this burden is not
When the crying fields are frozen by the silence of God

And if a man has got to listen to the voices of the mob
Who are reeling in the throes of all the happiness they've got
When they tell you all their troubles have been nailed up to that cross
Then what about the times when even followers get lost?
'Cause we all get lost sometimes...

There's a statue of Jesus on a monastery knoll
In the hills of Kentucky, all quiet and cold
And He's kneeling in the garden, as silent as a Stone
All His friends are sleeping and He's weeping all alone

And the man of all sorrows, he never forgot
What sorrow is carried by the hearts that he bought
So when the questions dissolve into the silence of God
The aching may remain, but the breaking does not
The aching may remain, but the breaking does not
In the holy, lonesome echo of the silence of God - Andrew Peterson