This issue of The Cry focuses on the Word Made Flesh Lifestyle Celebration of suffering.
One of the paradoxes and tensions of the Christian life is that we are extolled to be thankful despite the immediacy of particular circumstances (1 Thes. 5:16, 18; James 1:2; Mat. 5:11).
Sometimes circumstances make thankfulness almost effortless. Sometimes circumstances make thankfulness almost impossible.
Thankfully, remaining thankful for Christians in all circumstances is not an exercise in illusory compartmentalization. Maintaining thankfulness is not a masochistic practice. Thankfulness for the Christian does not disallow a range of other emotions to simultaneously function. Rather, thankfulness presupposes them and in itself can exist because of the fact that these other emotions are penultimate to a far greater reality. The scriptures remind us that despite present suffering there is an infinite and eternal store of Love accessible to us.
This is one of the mysteries of the Christian life. Suffering, anguish, tears, lament, anger, agony, and a range of related emotions, prepare us for expansive and substantive comprehension of goodness. Knowing ‘what is not’ and ‘what should not be’ adds capacity of thankfulness for ‘what is’ and for ‘what will be.’
Dorthee Soelle, a theologian that I have grown to love over the years notes, in a chapter she wrote on “Suffering,” that because of the harms of this world we must be committed to inconsolability even as, because of the Goodness of God and the world to come, we also remain faithfully committed to thankfulness.1
God does not desire nor does God cause suffering. However, God is not blind to our suffering. From a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, to God’s internal presence in each of us as exemplified at Pentecost, God sees our suffering and journeys with us in the midst of it. God promises us, “I will never leave nor forsake you…I will be with you even until the end of the age.” God is our Constant Companion who is always with us and who is for us, loving us, even in our very darkest moments. As we consider the sufferings of this world, it is vital to remember the promises that “in our weakness God is made strong” (2 Cor. 12:9-11) and that “the joy of the Lord is our strength” (Neh. 8:10).
Like the cross and the resurrection, death and life, suffering and joy dance together. Death remains, but it has lost its ultimate sting. Just two chapters after her chapter on “Suffering” – with the middle bridging chapter being on “Community” — Soelle shares a story about St. Francis on his deathbed in a chapter titled “Joy.” While Soelle gives space for lament and “deep, genuine mourning” noting that “there are times in life when we are so badly beaten down that no tongues are left to sing praise”2 she also reminds that it is vital to not succumb to the morbidity and decay that beset this world. Just as thankfulness and inconsolability go together, so it is with joy and tears. Soelle writes of this as “the abolition of divisions.”3 Rather than humanity being fraught with strict dichotomies being made in the Image of God allows for a multiplicity of emotions to interact. Relatedly, Soelle shares the story of St. Francis as he lay dying.
When an illness overcame him he began to sing a hymn of praise to God in all God’s creatures…He was only forty-four years old when, nearly blind, he lay on his deathbed; he asked the people around him to sing because that would lift the burden of his pain. He composed one song after another, and his companions became annoyed, thinking that someone dying should be serious. Tears in their eyes, they sang his hymns to sister sun, brother wind, sister water, brother fire and mother earth. And he inserted the line before the final stanza, “Praise to you, my Lord, through our brother death.” 4
The earth is the Lord’s and all therein (Ps. 24:1). In the midst of our small and great sorrows, tears, suffering, and anguish that breaks our hearts, that has us crying out “how long O Lord!?”, that has us lamenting the almost incomprehensible depths of cruelty humanity can perpetuate, inside it all, at the very core of everything, lies the redemptive Imago Dei – the Image of God – that cannot be erased. The Imago Dei bears witness throughout every aspect of this world to God’s Genesis affirmation, “God saw everything He had made, and indeed, it was very good.” Suffering exists for now (and it is so often egregiously, brutally hard), but even so, already it is secondary and a dependent variable. Life is primary and the independent variable.
For now, we work diligently to share Life and Love with those suffering. We seek to do this in the same manner of our Lord and Savior. We seek to walk with and be with people in the midst of their suffering. We see suffering and we ourselves suffer, but we see this suffering and we ourselves suffer with hope-filled hearts because we await the fulfillment of Isaiah 25:8: “He will swallow up death forever. The Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.”
Throughout this issue of The Cry you will read stories of Word Made Flesh volunteers and staff working with, walking with, and loving people from all over the world. Throughout this issue over and over again you will see Jesus show-up in wonderful ways. On behalf of the Suffering Servant “who so loved the world,” Word Made Flesh folks seek to take up the cross of Jesus and follow. They do this so that, by God’s grace and mercy, they might become symbols of Love for the God who is Love showcasing the way both in the midst of and through Red Sea and Wilderness experiences to life and life more abundantly.
Executive Director of Word Made Flesh
1 Soelle, Dorthee. “The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance.” 2001. Fortress Press: Minneapolis, MN, pp. 133-155.
2 Ibid., 186
3 Ibid., 179
4 Ibid., 187