One of the questions that came up in my study group at church last Thursday night has prompted me to think a bit about hope and about suffering. Here’s the question that came up:
“Deep down, do you ever feel God owes you a life free from suffering?”
Not any more. I came to the conclusion a few years ago that we are not going to get out of this life alive. And along the way to that inevitable end, there is bound to be suffering of some kind. There is not enough Ibuprofen, family counseling, and prayer intercession to counteract the suffering that is part of our lot in life as humans. I didn’t always think that way…
Young adulthood has a way of seducing us with the sheer ecstasy of our own possibilities; seducing us with the naive hope that we can navigate our way through life in such a manner as to avoid the ditches and potholes along the way. I am learning that even “Most Outstanding Boy Graduate of the Class of 1972” can’t expect to get through unscathed.
There is a crisis of grief I’ve felt in the depth of my soul. These are sobering realizations that have crept in over the years as life’s events have unfolded and begun to form an undeniable pattern. The pattern is that even my best efforts, my most heartfelt, sincere desire to walk uprightly before God hasn’t shielded me from suffering. I guess He’s not in the business of “casualty and life insurance”.
So somehow I got the wrong idea about the deal God was offering us regarding suffering. Without going into an analysis of how I embraced that wrong idea regarding what to expect, I am recognizing that an accurate perspective about reality was in some other explanation. That recognition came over time, not through reasoning of new facts, but of experiencing a new relational reality. When suffering occurs, God has been there in the midst of it with His comfort! Instead of feeling abandoned and estranged in the midst of suffering, I have experienced God’s presence more keenly and His encouragement more confidently. I am seeing a pattern that has its own seductive invitation to intimacy. My hope is becoming grounded in the unfolding experience of living in the embrace and fellowship of the triune God!
I am in the midst of seeking a clear understanding of the part that we must individually play in the process and the part that the ever-active Holy Spirit takes. I am seeing that we definitely need help with the process! Letting go is hard; too hard alone; too hard without the refining fire that is applied to the glue that connects us to our “worldly goods”. Somehow the activity of the Holy Spirit enables us to relinquish our hold on this world and reach for Him. Suffering and pain are the elements of the fire that God uses to help us loosen our grip on the worldly things we hold onto as our hope for fulfillment.
Where was my hope before? It was in the bloom of becoming capable as a young adult, in the exhilaration of accomplishment, in the satisfaction of fruitful service to my family and friends. Largely, these are things that I was doing for God that He was blessing. Now I am seeing my hope grounded in my being in relationship with God. While life in recent days hasn’t been noticeably exhilarating, satisfying, or fruitful in the doing part, the being part of my experience has been flourishing!
To conclude, here is a quote from Peter Kreeft’s Back to Virtue book:
Hope is a virtue of the soul. It is not something we can create by an act of our will, but (in large part) an emotional response to experiencing the love of God in our hearts.