(The following is my personal inquiry about suffering and questioning God’s Will in that suffering. None of it suffices for a proper treatment of doctrine surrounding the question. Take it as is: personal musings)
A few months after I graduated from seminary with my MDiv, I found myself back in class at the same school. I had noticed there was a night class being offered on reading through John Calvin, so I jumped at the opportunity. After having been solely a stay-at-home-mom for only 3 months, I needed–NEEDED–an adult, intellectual, theological outlet, and a reading class on Calvin would do nicely. Plus, I’m that obnoxious person who loves being in class and learning; I’m also that obnoxious person who rewrites B papers, so auditing a class post graduation for no reason than just because is well within my standard range of activity.
One night the discussion revolved around God’s will, a topic most of us find somewhat frustrating and intriguing. Specifically, the discussion revolved around a certain aspect of God’s will: does God will or allow bad things to happen to us? I’ll be honest, I don’t care for the question, so when the discussion proceeded I checked out; plus, I was a graduate and an auditor, this wasn’t my battle. It was the question posed by the professor that jerked me back into the real-time of the class: if you’re the victim of the violence does willing or allowing feel any different?
The question hung in the air; the classroom had gone terribly silent.
“No.” I said. “It doesn’t feel any different.”
There’s a reason I hate the question about whether or not God wills or allows bad things to happen to us: because I’ve suffered. I’ve suffered both physically and emotionally, by hands and by words. I hate the question because the questions I end up asking and their corresponding answers are bad news. If God willed my suffering, then I’m left asking was I created to suffer? to be a receptacle for violence? is this what I am good for? If God allowed my suffering, then I’m left asking why? why didn’t God intervene? is this suffering pleasing to God?
The discussion about God willing or allowing suffering in a person’s life always launches me directly to the question of “Why?” and that’s the one question, the absolutely and positively one question I can’t ever let myself ask. Whatever you do, don’t ask why. The why question and the multitude of possible answers is a veritable mental, emotional, and spiritual vortex that sucks the mind and the heart into the utter recesses of the dark night of the soul, and that place is a crushing place that will make life and existence actually painful. And that’s a scary place to be, because when we’re in that amount of pain we can become desperate to ease that pain and to silence the evil narrative to which we’ve fallen prey.
So, the “why?” question is off limits. That doesn’t mean I don’t find myself there periodically. It just means that when I am there, I’ve to do active self-willing and mental gymnastics to get my mind and my heart to ask a different question and to focus on that question’s answer. The only thing that I want to know in light of my suffering, the only question that actually has an answer of comfort (for me) is a “What” question: what now? What happens now? I’ve suffered, yes, but tell me that that suffering is not the final word. Tell me that Jesus wept. Tell me that God has delivered his divine verdict to that suffering. Tell me that my heavenly Father’s righteous indignation was set aflame and burned brightly. Tell me that God can restore what the locusts have taken, that even out of that evil, God can call forth something good, something beautiful, something divine. Tell me that I’m not the sum of my deeds or the deeds done to me. Tell me of God’s radical activity toward me on my behalf in Jesus Christ and His life, death, resurrection, and ascension.
The “Why?” causes a disruption in the flow of the story that is my life; it places that part of my story outside of the story-line and out of reach. And if that part of my story is out of reach I can’t do anything with it, it moves from past to the present and into the future unanchored. The “Why?” and it’s corresponding (possible) answers will never substantially ease the burden of the suffering. But the “What now?” question puts that story into my own hands and gives me the opportunity to put it where it belongs in my story-line: chronologically in the past as an historical event. I can admit it and confess it, and thus there’s a spiritual placement: at the foot of the Cross; this is the only way to lift the burden of the suffering. Whatever you do, don’t try to answer the “Why?”, just tell me about the what and the who that is the very good news now.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (Jn 3:16)
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Mt 11:28-9)
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.” (Mt 5:3-4)