By Kerry Smith.
I stand up from a fitful night of painful sleep, grabbing the ironing board, tripping over a wad of socks from my own big feet, and make my way through the darkness to the light switch. Underneath my breath, I say the word that I have created that gives both laughter to my wife and pain. It is the word “Shheeeaaaiitttt”. I created it when I couldn’t roll over after my fusion surgery and would prolong it as I tried to turn from my back to my side.
I finally reach the coffee pot where I make coffee with half the caffeine of regular coffee. All of the medicine that I take for my pain over the years has made it tough on me to drink full caffeinated coffee. I stand there next to the coffee maker, trying to stretch, trying to make sense of the day ahead of me, waiting for a cup of the black stuff to hopefully clear some of the fog in between my ears. On this day, a day not out of the ordinary, I go to a chair, sit down, and in the midst of my pain, I pose the question each of us does; why me?
You see, I know all those “biblical” answers as to why we are suffering. I studied religion in undergrad school and have a Masters of Divinity from a seminary. I have read the book of Job in the Old Testament and see that thru his own loss and pain, he is what is known as “patient” because he refuses the advice of his friends to blame God. Yet the story ends with Job gaining everything back and the insinuation is that because of such patience, God restores what he had before his suffering plus more. Yeah well, we are suffering, like Job, and some of us have this patience and are not getting any better, any time soon.
We may even have well-meaning friends who tell us that “Everything happens for a reason”. Not knowing what else to say, they will give a simple answer to our suffering. Friends, this statement is nothing but BULL SH%$@*T!!!! What kind of God sits up in heaven and performs a grand marionette play with us, pulling our strings, and pulling us across the stage into trees and what not and asking us to figure out what reason there is for smacking us around. BULL SH$$@*T!!!! Oh, while I am at it, BULLSH%$@T to the statement, “God will not give us more than we can handle”!
I have a good friend whose wife suddenly died. They had two beautiful little girls and she went in to take a nap and never woke up. A wife and mother gone in a flash. Now what reason would God have in taking my friends wife? And explain to me again how those little girls could handle such as the loss of their mom? A few years after his wife’s death, I asked him how was making sense of her senseless death. He said “Kerry, It is not if we will suffer but when we will suffer.” That statement has stuck with me. It is not if we will suffer, but when we will suffer.
It still doesn’t quite get at our situation, does it? Yesterday I was standing and talking with my wife and out of nowhere; I lost my balance and almost fell. I was embarrassed and my wife was concerned. It seems that we who suffer with chronic pain have a higher incidence of falling. Studies have and are being done on why chronic pain patients have a higher risk of falling. And so it progresses, doesn’t it? Something I didn’t expect nor ask for and now I have the problem of falling. Why God, oh why does this continue? I have done all the things right that I should have? I am not a bad person, so why? Why have I lost so much in this struggle with pain; the loss of family members, the loss of money and possessions, the loss of purpose, the loss of jobs, why oh why? Where are you God, where are you in the midst of my suffering, of our suffering and why me; us?
As a theologian, as someone who studies about this God who seems so absent, as a sufferer, day in day out, and as someone who has asked the questions of why and who and what in the midst of my pain, I have two words to share with you that may or may not help. As a preface, let me say this: what you and I are being told about God and suffering is at least misguided and at most is painful. So here are the words, one that has been studied by many and one that has rarely if ever been used. The first one is “Theophany”, which means, “a suffering God”. It means that the God of all creation, the one who has made our beautiful world, is a God who suffers along with this beautiful creation as it too suffers. And if you haven’t noticed, there sure is a lot of suffering in our world today.
Many of us know that picture of Jesus on a cross and it is a painful picture. Jesus, who if it is understood that Jesus is also God, is there, hanging on a cross. Even Jesus asks” why oh God have you forsaken me?” The picture for us to comprehend is not just that Jesus, a human being is there on a cross and suffering, but also that God is there, suffering, just like you and me as we hang on the cross of Chronic pain. Thus, we have the picture of a suffering God.
The second term is Theophany, and it means, a God who wrestles with us. In the Old Testament, we see the person of Jacob who challenges God or an angel of God, to a wrestling match. Jacob wanted to be blessed, and what did he have the nerve to do? Challenge God to a wrestling match! God obliged and they wrestled until Jacob was hurt. He may have been blessed in the end, but he walked away after that match with a limp for the rest of his life. Thus we have the word “Theophany”, a wrestling God.
Even though they are said with good intentions, simple phrases like, “everything happens for a reason” and “God won’t give you any more than you can handle”, are not helpful. There is no simple answer to our suffering or God’s purpose in that suffering.
Psalm 139:7-13 Contemporary English Version (CEV)
7 Where could I go to escape from your Spirit or from your sight!
8 If I were to climb up to the highest heavens, you would be there. If I were to dig down to the world of the dead you would also be there.
9 Suppose I had wings like the dawning day and flew across the ocean.
10 Even then your powerful arm would guide and protect me.
11 Or suppose I said, “I’ll hide in the dark until night comes to cover me over.”
12 But you see in the dark because daylight and dark are all the same to you.
Kerry Smith lives in Tenneesse, suffers from chronic pain and is a frequent contributor to the National Pain Report. When he’s physically able, he’s know as the The Bird Carver. For more on that and some other of his musings on chronic pain, see here.