I was at a "White Elephant" Christmas party last night, where the conversation of religion came up (the downside to letting people know you're a minister). One woman, who has explored religion most of her life, confessed that it was the idea of 'suffering' that turned her off from most world religions. "The Buddha wants you to suffer. God, Allah, YHWY, want you to suffer. Why?"
To be honest, I just listened. I didn't want to get into a deep theological conversation to try to sway her towards my beliefs. I just wanted to have a glass of wine, enjoy a meal, and battle over a cheesy $10 gift.
Suffering, like waiting, happens. That's it. It happens to us whether we seek it for a higher purpose or not. We cannot escape suffering, waiting, testing, and the like. Heck, Christmas is all about suffering...finding the right gift, waiting to open your gift, worrying about spending too much or too little, family or lack of...the list is endless.
So how do we make sense of suffering? Why does it exist? Or why do we allow it to steal our joy?
The influential Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, once said, " 'There cannot be a God of love,' people say, 'because if there was, and he looked upon the world, his heart work break.' The church points to the cross and says, 'It did break.' "
The Apostles Paul, James, Peter...all proclaim that it is in such struggles that we find our joy. This seems crazy, right? But no one knowns sufferjng better than God. And so the way I see it is in our suffering we must remember God is present, at work caring for us. Where true love exists, and where there is suffering, than love must suffer too.
American philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff, says in his book, Lament For A Son, "God is love. That is why he suffers. To love our suffering world is to suffer. The one who does not see God's suffering does not see God's love. So, suffering is down at the center of things, deep down where the meaning is. The tests of God are the meaning of history."
Just as God experiences suffering with us, so to our we to be present with others...in our pain or theirs. In the intimacy of such a relationship we find the joy of love. We must allow our hearts to embrace the beauty and reality of the suffering Christ. As we do, our actions will reflect God's heart towards those who suffer and the expressions of God's love for them (and us) will take form; transforming into joy.
In our time of Advent wait, we will experience a gambit of emotions. Through each one, find the joy within. For it is there you will discover, the gift of God's love ready to be unwrapped.