March 2009

Wilt thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which was my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt thou forgive that sin, through which I run,
And do run still, though still I do deplore?
When thou hast done, thou hast not done,
For I have more.

Wilt thou forgive that sin which I have won
Others to sin, and made my sin their door?
Wilt thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year or two, but wallow’d in, a score?
When thou hast done, thou hast not done,
For I have more.

I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;
But swear by thyself, that at my death thy Son
Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore;
And, having done that, thou hast done;
I fear no more.

-John Donne

Ultimately, I think, the only answer to both suffering and how to deal with suffering is the character of God Himself – who He is. Yes, we know rationally that suffering exists and happens because sin entered the world, because Adam exercised his free will and thus condemned the entire human race to enter a fallen state, but ultimately that doesn’t really help us when in the midst of suffering, because of course then we wonder “couldn’t God have come up with another way”? Why did he let Adam sin, why let the human race take this course, and why is suffering necessary? And we don’t know – we have no answer for the will of God in this instance. The Bible says nothing about why God chose this route over another. Of course God could have created a different future for the human race. But he chose not to, and so as Murray pointed out in Behind a Frowning Providence, it’s pointless for us to conjecture why – the important thing is that he did not, that suffering is what we have to deal with in our reality.

Ultimately, then, the only answer to suffering is the being of God. The only way we as Christians can get through the suffering we face is not by an understanding of why this is happenning, something we will rarely have, but rather by a knowledge of the character of God – a knowledge built up through years of studying Him and pursuing Him in the Word, prayer, and in life. Because if we know God, we will know that He is good, and this blind reliance on our knowledge of His goodness will be the only thing that can sustain us through dark times. We can’t say that of anything or anyone else in the world – of no one else is it true that their character, their being is in and of itself an answer, and answer enough.  But when we reach out, when we come in contact with Yahweh, this infinitely vast and complex and loving being, we are convinced, in that interaction, that He is enough – Him, and Him alone. We don’t know his will or his plans or the logic behind much of what happens in our lives – so much of it seems irrational, pointless, made up of futile suffering. We can only know God – “this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” John 17:3, and in knowing Him, know His love, and let that love be our answer to all our suffering, let it become ever more and more our surety as we come to know it more. Knowing God – having knowledge of his character, his being, and how he interacts with both the human race and his people – is the only thing which can really sustain us through suffering. In C.S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces, Orual, the princess who is tormented by the gods all her life and eventually loses her sister to them, seeks them out at the end and faces them, demanding to know why. They give her no answer, only reveal to her a little of their glory and their presence, and when they ask her “Are you answered?” she replied “I am answered”. Job had much the same response. We can never know. Never know exaclty why or for what purpose suffering exists, and our individual suffering in particular. We have to live, not knowing. To know God should be enough.