Connections 03.21.2021: The Suffering Savior

Hebrews 5:1-10

As a volunteer for a nonprofit that helps families of children with cancer, I have seen suffering. I knew a small girl, barely six years old, with long scars on her back from lung surgery in an attempt to remove the tumors that were killing her. I listened to her mother describe torturous radioactive treatments the child endured in a room separated from her loved ones because the medicine made her body poisonous to others. I watched this little girl lose her hair and grow it back again, lush and dark and curly. I attended her funeral.

There really are no words for this level of suffering, and the idea of something like cancer striking one of my own children takes my breath away. And yet this and so many other horrific forms of suffering happen every second, all over the world. How do we make sense of it? What does it mean to be a Christian, someone who bases her life on a Savior who suffered and died? How can suffering coexist with a good and loving God? Are humans really that bad?

Why is there so much suffering? No question has pervaded the struggle of faith more than this one. Over the centuries, people have tried to answer it in many ways. We suffer because we live in a fallen world. We suffer because Adam and Eve sinned and ruined paradise. Because it makes us stronger. Because it helps us recognize what matters. Because God is punishing us. Because we have free will. I could keep going, but you get the point.

In Living Under Tension, author Harry Emerson Fosdick says that we suffer because of four different things: “(1) the law-abiding nature of the universe, (2) the progressive nature of human life, (3) the human freedom of choice, (4) and the intermeshed relationships of human life.” He says that all of our suffering is a “single or conjoint operation of those four factors. Yet if you had omnipotence for an hour, would you eliminate from the universe a single one of them? …Everything worthwhile in life also comes from these same four factors whence its tragedies spring.”

So the very things that bring our lives joy and fulfillment (like a beautiful little girl) can also break our hearts and our spirits. Basically, we live in a world where life is both beautiful and brutal (or “brutiful,” as it’s been coined in recent years). Suffering is part of this world as much as delight. The comfort we have is that Jesus, our Savior, understands the beauty and the brutality because he experienced them both himself.

Thanks be to God for Jesus, who “offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission” (Heb 5:7). Jesus knows what this world is like, and he shows us how to live in it abundantly—through joy and through suffering.

Source: Harry Emerson Fosdick, Living Under Tension (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1941) 218 (quoted in John Lepper, When Crisis Comes Home [Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2009]).

Discussion

• What delights have you enjoyed in this world?
• What suffering have you witnessed and/or experienced personally?
• Do the delights have any connection to the suffering? If so, how?
• Where have you found God in your suffering?
• How can Jesus, who personally experienced the beauty and the brutality of the world, help you find your way?

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor of Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. In addition to this work, she is a freelance editor for other publishers and authors. She also regularly volunteers for Jay’s HOPE, a nonprofit serving families of children with cancer. Kelley enjoys spending time with her teenage daughters, Samantha and Natalie, her husband John, and the family’s two dachshund mix pups, Luke and Leia. She likes supporting community theater productions and is often found playing board games with a group of rowdy friends. She loves Marvel, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Doctor Who. And she writes middle grade and young adult fiction for the pure joy of it.

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