Tag Archives: suffering

Mark 8:31-38 and suffering

So I’ve been working on learning Mark 8:31-38 by heart, and, if you read my previous post, then you know the huge impact the rhetorical questions here made on me, how they made the passage come alive, in a whole new way.

But another thing is slowly swimming up in my mind about this passage, which is so familiar that it can be hard to hear. Jesus says he must suffer, be rejected, be killed, and rise again.

The order of that strikes me: He is suffering first.

His heart is broken at the brokenness of the world, at this “adulterous and sinful generation” that has not kept faith with God’s rule of love. Out of suffering, everything else will follow, including the redemption.

Was it just chance that he put the order this way? How does the story change if he is rejected, then suffers, then is killed? That’s just the story we would expect isn’t it? Of course you suffer when you are rejected, aren’t listened to, are not believed. And then that escalates to killing. Sure, that’s the proper plot.

But Jesus suffers first, and not perhaps bodily harm, but (I think) because his heart just aches for us, for the widow and the orphan and the sick and the dying and those in chains and those in loneliness and those in madness and those in prison and … everyone.

I’m not eager to suffer, I don’t know what my cross is that I have to take up, but certainly my heart aches when I hear of another school shooting or mass shooting or impulsive suicide and then yet more inaction on commonsense gun laws. My heart aches with the thought of another hurricane season and what might happen to places still not fully recovered from 2017’s season. From violence and wars and heart-breaking stories of refugees. To simple stories of families breaking apart and illness and the ordinary suffering of life. This is only the tip. I limit the news that I take in.

Yet suffering is what happens to Jesus, what happens to him first. Perhaps the suffering heart is the most important thing. Let’s have soft hearts this week, let’s have soft hearts together, as foolish as that may be in this world. That may be a cross we have to carry, in order to fully follow Him. Broken hearts may be what we give in return for the priceless gift of life itself.


The beginning of John 9:1-41

So here’s the beginning verses:

As he walked along,
he saw a man blind from birth.
His disciples asked him,
“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents,
that he was born blind?”
Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 

Now on one level it is a very clear thing — in those days the reason someone might be born blind was because of a punishment for sin. Jesus is saying no, that’s not it. And that was considered (I am told) a radical thing to say and believe.

Yet would Jesus’ reason for the man being born blind might really be comforting? God made this man born blind so that eventually he will be healed by Jesus and thus show and serve God’s glory? Isn’t that really mean of God? Isn’t that God using bad for good; isn’t that unfair?

The man born blind makes no complaint. He’s glad to be healed, he’s frustrated at the confusion of his identity post-healing (as you would be), he’s frustrated by being asked over and over how “that man” healed him and who (and where) “that man” is. He ultimately believes “that man”, Jesus, to be the Son of Man (a declaration of being the Messiah) and worships him. You do not worship someone who is only human. The formerly blind man ends up seeing very clearly indeed.

So if he has no complaint about being used by God to reveal the glory of God, perhaps I should not either. It might be patronizing of me. Or it might be me stuck in this endless loop I seem to be in about wanting the world to be fair and nice and just and safe and good and when bad things happen, I don’t blame people*, I blame God.

Here’s what I imagine. Imagine the man’s mother, so young and hopeful and delighted to be okay after giving birth, and delighted to have her baby and delighted he is nursing and thriving. Except unlike other babies, his eyes don’t seem to learn to track. He doesn’t seem to recognize the light when it shines in his face. She holds him to the sun, putting her hand gently over his eyes and moving her hand away, and he laughs because he feels her hand, and the strength of her arm holding him, and the breeze blowing against his face. But his little eyes don’t get upset by the bright shine of the sun. It might take more months before she admits that he can’t see, that he will never see her face, he will never be the son they so longed for, that all he can be (in that place and time) is a beggar, an object of mercy and charity, or in bad circumstances, an object to ridicule and even steal from, take his money right out of his cloak spread on the ground. Imagine the tears she shed, no matter how many other children they had or have, because this child is facing a literally dark future. Imagine Jesus telling her — it was all set up just so I could prove that I am.

Would she be angry at Jesus/God?

Would she be glad to know why this happened to her son, and that it was set up as an honor?

All we end up knowing from the story, is she and her husband are afraid.

Would it help me in suffering, to know that it is for the glory of God? I hope so. I think it might. I pray that I never need to know. I think fear is a pretty honest and appropriate response to seeing the power and healing of God!


*Mostly. Sometimes, some things, sure. But not for being born blind, right?







A time for Silence?

So what is prayer?  There’s praise, intercessory and thankfulness? There’s the connecting-with-God type of prayer? Both, right? But the connecting-with-God folks tend to be a bit prideful, maybe, just suggesting…..that’s big thing to try to do, to try to listen for God. Yet there are times when I do feel that God is right here with me. So the whole prayer thing — something I’ve done always — suddenly all sorts of questions! And don’t start with me about the “sometimes God says ‘no’ or ‘not now’ answers to prayers”. That’s so pat. That’s so easy. That makes God out to me a big bully — sorry, nope your loved one dies despite all your prayers; nope you suffer from that illness; no, no, no. Don’t get me wrong, I get that God gets it. I understand that God’s ways might be miles above my pay grade. But I don’t like easy answers to suffering. I’d rather just have a mystery.

God’s not magic to solve everything.

Anyway, in reading Psalms, reading about prayer — all sorts of questions. For my class I wrote this:

Silence. Silence in prayer is where we are listening. Perhaps something tangled will become clear. Perhaps something too terrible for words can be shared with God. Perhaps it is just for us, resting in acceptance of both God’s love and God’s mystery. Last night’s lecture was on intercessory prayer, but the communion-with-God prayer is what is harder. It is easy to say “God bless….” and it is easy to say “Thank you God for….” Just being in silence, waiting, listening, hoping, trusting — this is harder and (I think) needs a willingness to listen to yourself, a willingness to know yourself that can be very daunting indeed. I’ve very much enjoyed “centering prayer” in different moments of my life, it is with a bit of surprise to realize that I have not done that for a while, a good while. Our pastor spoke recently of different types of silence: being silenced; being voiceless; being in silence; responding with silence. Silence is not of itself a good thing; context is all. God’s silence might be a type of suffering, of sorrow that we’re in pain and sadness.

And that takes us back to Elijah’s “still small voice” or the sound of sheer silence that he heard in the cave on the mountain. He didn’t act as if he had a revelation — he said immediately afterward exactly the same words to God.  I wonder if he looked back later and thought about it and was awed. After all, if Elijah hadn’t told the story, we wouldn’t know the story. Sometimes things take time and a good night sleep and some bread and cheese.

What do you think?

Elijah, Kings 17: 8 – 16

In this section, since the water is running out where Elijah was sent by God to hide, God sends him elsewhere, and according to my study bible footnote, that is right into the heart of the enemy — “The journey to Zarephath on the Phoenician coast south of Sidon takes the prophet into the heartland of the Baal cult.” Really? How did Elijah feel about that? This land is also full of drought and suffering but God sends him to a widow, and to the second miracle, which is that suddenly she had enough flour and oil to make little cakes for Elijah and herself and her son, when they were facing certain death.

I hope revealing that I think there is some humor, when she replies to Elijah, who has asked her for food, that she is gathering sticks so she can cook the last of her food, “that we may eat it, and die.” It’s so bleak and abrupt. My first reaction is to think it is funny.

Because normally I expect to hear “eat, drink, and be merry”. Or I think that not having food might be a surprise but not necessarily mean that you are going to die. Right? We don’t think “okay the house is empty of food, I have no money, the food bank is closed — guess I’ll just die.” When I was in my twenties with my first apartment, running out of food and money was not an isolated incident, it meant “time to go see the parents and eat their food.” This woman and her son are so isolated from their community they have no help. Or their community is suffering so bitterly as a whole that they cannot help her. This is want and lack on the scope of Haiti or other places.

It isn’t really funny at all. It is isolation and despair and hunger and hopelessness.

God sent Elijah to her. Wow!

I wonder about all the rest of the people. Why did God only save her? Well we don’t know, maybe there are other stories that didn’t get written down. Maybe the other people did have some resources left or some where to go or other help. That’s just not in the story. In the story we have, it is the second time we see God take care of Elijah and this time, that also helps others and in a way creates a type of family unit: a man, woman, and child.

Elijah was completely isolated (except for God and ravens), in foreign land, and now he is back in community, the most fundamental of all. And none of them are going to die. Right?