Within this world suffering is unavoidable. The question is why? I know that God gave us freewill and when we strayed away in the Garden of Eden, we left ourselves open to the evils this world has to offer. However I don’t believe this is His only reason for leaving suffering within the world.
I have recently re-read “A Brave New World”. In this book Huxley creates a “perfect” world. A world where there is no sickness or disease. A world where people are permanently happy and every single want, can be fulfilled within minutes. A world where people don’t age and death is no longer feared. Isn’t that what we all long for? Huxley portrays this world, as devoid of beauty, religion and most of all basic human compassion. Love is a foreign emotion within this civilisation. The reason why death is no longer feared is that no-one is that important to anyone. Is Huxley right? Do we require suffering and hardships in order to gain the maximum life can offer? Irenaeus certainly claimed that life is like an Impressionist picture, full of loads of coloured dots. He said that if you viewed life from only the black spot you’re in now, then life is pretty miserable, but if you take a step back and examine the whole painting you wouldn’t ask God to take it away because without the black patches the picture isn’t as fascinating.
Suffering and pain means that you have a greater knowledge of human compassion and kindness. People gather around when they see trouble, you only have to fall in the street and people come running with obvious concern. The huge world disasters like the World Trade centre and the Tsunami bring the world together to cope with the tragedies. I know, from experience, that if I ask a complete stranger for help, generally they will assist. When travelling on the underground with luggage, I’ve had help from policemen to beggars. When you’re really down and/or struggling, you know what true friendship is about.
Suffering can bring, people’s admiration and be a witness to them. People’s natural reaction is to put themselves in your shoes and consider how they would cope with it. One of my most treasured birthday presents this year was a teddy bear key ring, which arrived on the day. It was off one of my best friends – Angel, whose brother had committed suicide that week. Now it is a complete mystery to me and a testimony of our friendship, how she remembered my birthday in the midst of all she must have been going through. Equally there are a number of other people, who I have amazing respect for and who have taught me, that just because you’re hurting physically or emotionally inside doesn’t mean you have to stop smiling. You can still be a witness to others, lying on a hospital bed, when your debt is rising or in the middle of bereavement. In all of these situations you meet people, who under normal circumstances you wouldn’t get involved with.
I feel I have had to cope with a soap opera like existence. I often felt that if it could happen, it was bound happen to me. Since becoming a Christian, I have had to deal with the “it’s not fair” maxism. I have used and abused it far too long within my life. I don’t believe God meant life to be fair. What count’s as a tough challenge for one person is a meagre drop in the ocean for another. We were created differently and possess differing histories. I find dealing with anger, incredibly hard, whereas my sister can’t cope with spiders or dressed up people. We require different sorts and levels of suffering to force us to change and grow to become more like Him. The God, who knows all things, knows our own personal endurance levels and though He does stretch them, He will not allow us to go beyond them. As we grow in the Lord, we’ll be able to cope with more - What we would not have been able to survive one year we find ourselves handling with the Lords assistance the next. We have to trust that He does know what He’s doing, even when life feels like it’s falling about you.
The option of “answered prayer”, has always been a tough one for me and one that the logical side to my brain, sometimes absurdly wishes wasn’t there, in spite of the fact that it has brought me out of many tricky situations. It brings so many unanswered questions to mind. - Why some prayers and not others? Is it due to lack of faith? Whenever I get a small prayer answered, all too often I find myself wondering, “Hey Lord, why do you waste your powers with something as small as that?” This of course is totally irrelevant. God is omnipotent and if he chose, He could answer everyone’s prayers within this world. Yet, human logic still prevails – I’ve got to be honest, one of the things I want most, is to be healed of a rare metabolic disease that I am burdened with. Why do I want that? Mostly my reasons are selfish and just my own wish to impress people – I am passionate about music, yet had to give up on the notion of being play or sing due to involuntary movements and an inability to use my left hand. I have been given a good brain, which I know many people are unaware of due to my inability to express myself clearly. However probably my one of my greatest desire is to serve people and I know my problems get in the way of both, the performing of the task and people feeling able to ask. Of course the person, I should be aiming to serve is God – to trust the one person who knows me inside out, upside down and round and round. Yet, although to be healed, is one of the yearning of my heart, I know if I was healed today, I’d feel guilty. Guilty, because there are so many worse off or younger or better people, than myself. The possibility of healing in particular, brings hope again and again, but it also brings disheartenment to the person who requires the healing and the others who come around them to pray. Somehow we’ve got to get a realistic balance between faith and acceptance of the problem. Acceptance, that it is God’s will and choose to face whatever the problem is, with a smile on your face and a willingness to learn.
If…when I eventually make it into Heaven and I am in the very presence of God and I have the opportunity to ask Him any question I desire, I can imagine myself, perversely, never getting around to the question of suffering which has plagued me for so long. I will be surrounded by God’s glory and perfect love and know that I have an eternity of it. This life and the questions of this world, simply wont matter anymore.
Now suffering itself is bad enough, but how many of us spend our days worrying about suffering which never actually comes around. Generally I am not a “worry wart.” Compared to many, I do not get stressed easily. My mother claims I’m practically horizontal and in my stocking last year, I received a magnet stating “I do not suffer from stress, but I am a carrier”. This is a slight exaggeration – She has the power to get me very stressed.
I have developed a good variety of coping mechanisms to handle the stresses and worries of life, such as
Distraction – I run, finding the pain from my complaining muscles and breathlessness that accompanies it, an excellent distractive agent. I read, anything that’s around – doesn’t matter whether it’s road signs or the manual for a dishwasher. I think about anything other than what I am actually stressed about, like concocting a chocolate alphabet – A is for Aero, B is for Bounty, C is for…
Pretence – A person once observed about me, “You always claim to be fine, whether you are or not.” She was quite correct in this. I, most of the time, pull a thick blanket over my feelings. The result? They all come flooding out in one go. This pretence, doesn’t only involve wearing a mask for other people’s benefit. If you’re anything like me, you’re convincing yourself, that the thing that your worried about, the pain you’re in, physical or mental, doesn’t actually exist. If you don’t mention a problem, it might eventually go away. Wrong! Trust me. It doesn’t work. Saying your “fine” doesn’t necessarily make it so. “FINE” is can be an acronym for “Finished, Isolated, Neurotic and Emotional”.
Procrastination – boy this is a good one! Why do today, what you can put off until tomorrow. Because you’ve still got it to worry about you idiot! However we all do it!
I sat with the results to my degree on my lap for a full 15 minutes until a friend grabbed them off me, “I want to know even if you don’t.”
Another of my ways of managing is the “HOW LIKELY IS IT?” philosophy. I am quite aware that unlikely things will happen…I once did the maths and I worked out it was 95 times more likely for a particular person to win the lottery than to inherit my condition. However that doesn’t stop me using this method. I recall being in an MRI scan. Now I am not claustrophobic - thank goodness, but I they had to tie my legs together and pack me in with pillows in an effect to halt my movements. I remember thinking – “What if there’s a fire or an explosion. There’s no way on this earth I could get out.” But I silently reasured myself, “Yeah right and what if the aliens invade or the killer penguins attack! Stop being foolish, nought is gonna happen. ”
I also use the Philosopher Epicurus’ way of reassurance. I concentrate on the worry and go through what’s the worst that could happen in that situation. I could of failed my degree which would have led to embarrassment and my choosing to retake, but would another year of studying really be that bad. No. I’d enjoyed the three years, therefore what was I worrying about.
What of course we ought to do with our panics, is simply lay them at Jesus’ feet. A friend once instructed me “to turn every worry into a prayer.” I know, with me, prayer tends to be the last resort, when I’ve tried every other possible method of dealing with the problem. It’s rather like my abject refusal of looking at the manual, until after I’ve pressed every single button, - when the alarm clock, which I was aiming to simply get to say the correct time, now refuses to stop beeping at me. After I have made matters far worse by trying to solve the problem humanly, I then suddenly think to myself - “hang on…hey Jesus, errhh got a little problem, which errh naturally you know about…” All to often I feel His calm and presence, and relief floods me. Imagine if we went to Him first. How much time would we save?
Jesus teaches us to surrender everything. This means our time, money, problems, fears, memories of past hurts e.t.c. I have always found this hard, mainly because it means being dependent on him. Anyone who knows me well, will know that I need my independence. People who fuss, generally gain the fairly terse response “I’m fine”. In the past I have used this initiative on God, telling him that I don’t need him. I am still learning to depend on him. In some ways my independence nature with God, has been whittled away by my refusal to be weak and ask of people. If I had family or friends to hold my hand when I was petrified, I would be relying on that person and not turning to the one person who can make a real difference.
Jesus has been through everything that we have been through. He knows about worry, pain and temptations. He was fully human and yet gave us the best example in every way. When I’m in absolute agony and picture Jesus on his thrown with the splendours of heaven around him, it can make me feel further away than ever. If I alternately bring up an image of him on that cross, in the pain that I put him through and still loving me, with a love that cannot be measured. From that one act, from that one person, we all gained, not only an opportunity for a place in Heaven, but also understanding from our Lord and God, when we need it most.
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