Before delving into perspectives and revelations on suffering and the beauty that may come of it, I want to begin with a disclaimer and subsequent ground rules between you, the reader, and me, the writer:
I can acknowledge that there has been significant harm done per the discussion of suffering within the American Church. Many of us have been given the message that our suffering and pain is resulting from a lack of trust or lack of fervent prayer. Many of us have suffered in silence and isolation, as our brothers and sisters do not have the language or context for what we are carrying and would rather dismiss it than to sit with us in it. But these responses are very much not what Jesus modeled or instructed us in.
Though it may be uncomfortable, I want to invite you into a dialogue around what we can do with suffering and if or how we might find redemption on the other side. Please know that this is not intended to produce black and white answers. Also, note that each of us holds a slightly different definition of suffering and of beauty—I welcome your varying perspective of these terms and ask that you do the same with mine.
After reading the other blog posts contributed for this theme of “Beauty from Suffering,” and following up in conversation with trusted friends over the past few weeks, I have asked the Lord to highlight where His voice can be found in our pondering.
I’ve been reminded that the experience of suffering is vast and varied, encompassing systemic suffering that includes poverty, starvation and oppression; as well as individual impacts of suffering seen in grief, abuse and discomfort.
So is it possible, or even necessary, to identify associations of beauty with the expanse of creation’s suffering across the globe?
As a creature wired for hope and a follower of Jesus who is looking for His stories of redemption, I find myself longing to say yes. I find that the pursuit of beauty in the midst of or during the aftermath of suffering is a worthy cause, though my understanding of when and how to identify that beauty is shifting.
When I consider the very human experience of Jesus weeping in Gethsemane and withstanding agonizing pain on the cross—the epitome of suffering, I really don’t believe that He was acknowledging beauty at that moment. There was no beauty in the feeling of abandonment that consumed Him as He cried out to God, questioning why He had been forsaken. And this is Jesus, the omniscient, God-became-man Jesus, who knew the incredibly beautiful ending to the story of the cross.
So we can hold to the truth of Jesus’ story and trust that beauty will likely not occur simultaneous to suffering. But that doesn’t mean that beauty isn’t still to come. As Dr. Tony Compolo has reminded us, we may suffer on Good Friday, but “Sunday’s Comin'!” This life of following Jesus is marked by numerous stories of redemption that reveal beauty after suffering.
I want to pause here and note, though beauty will often follow suffering in the way of redemption, as it did with the cross, I don’t know if that’s always the case. There may be some stories of systemic or personal suffering that do not result in beauty. As followers of a Redeemer God, this can be frightening, confusing, and may even lead to serious questioning of our faith and of His goodness.
Just in the way that heavy rains can contribute to life as green grass grows the next day, or can cause flooding and destruction, suffering can produce experiences that are beyond our understanding. And this is a conversation that is not often held in the American church and I broach without having all the answers.
So even as that may be true, I don’t believe we are to diminish or disregard opportunities to find beauty in the ashes of suffering. Identifying beauty does not have to negate the severity of the suffering, but rather, it is what gives us the hope to continue to choose life, despite the many stories that end in pain.
Jesus invites us into the discovery of beauty in unlikely places, noting that those who are poor in spirit, meek and persecuted because of righteousness will be blessed. [Matthew 5:3-12]
May we spur one another on toward hope and good deeds, while still holding space for one another’s suffering that has not yet been redeemed. And please, find the courage to seek out trusted loved ones to grapple with this topic. The weighty, muddy concepts of faith are often the most worth wrestling with, and the act of baring our hearts to God and one another can be where we discover the purest revelations.
Praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord, O my soul.
I will praise the Lord all my life;
I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
Do not put your trust in princes,
In mortal men, who cannot save.
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
On that very day their plans come to nothing.
Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
Whose hope is in the Lord his God,
The Maker of heaven and earth,
The sea, and everything in them—
The Lord, who remains faithful forever.
He upholds the cause of the oppressed
And gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free,
The Lord gives sight to the blind,
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,
The Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the alien
And sustains the fatherless and the widow,
But he frustrates the ways of the wicked.
The Lord reigns forever,
Your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord.
Find rest, O my soul, in God alone;
My hope comes from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation;
He is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
My Salvation and my honor depend on God;
He is my mighty rock, my refuge.
Trust in him at all times, O people;
Pour out your hearts to him,
For God is our refuge.