Sunday, 30 October 2016

Christian Caregiving 5- healing prayer

Today we continue our sermon series on Christian caregiving. Last time we spoke about caring for people who sin. Today we are going to talk about praying for people who desire healing.   
Some find this topic intimidating because it brings to mind televangelists. Others dislike the topic because it is not predictable enough- we don’t know when a person will be healed and when they won’t be- there are no guarantees. There are no techniques or words that always bring a predictable result. It is a controversial topic for many people. And yet… it is a part of what we are called to do as disciples of our Lord.  St. James writes, “Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective” (James 5:14-16).  We read about the ministry of the 70 that were sent out- Jesus instructs them “cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you’” (Luke 10). We also see this ministry of healing continue in the book of Acts after Jesus ascends into heaven. St. Peter and St. John were going to the temple to pray when they come across a crippled man begging. Peter turns to him and says, ‘I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.’ (Acts 3:6). The man is completely healed and this starts a huge controversy with the authorities. Praying for healing is part of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, who of course was constantly engaged in healing.
Many of us also either have our own stories of physical healing or know people who claim to have received healing in response to prayer.  No doubt God uses medications and various medical treatments and the wisdom of doctors and nurses and various other healing professionals. But, God also uses prayer to bring healing.
There have been some scientific studies in the area of prayer. A doctor named Larry Dossey wrote a book called “Healing Words” where he makes reference to these studies. As an agnostic medical doctor he came to the following conclusion after looking at these studies, “over time I decided that not to employ prayer with my patients was the equivalent of deliberately withholding a potent drug or surgical procedure. … I simply could not ignore the evidence for prayer’s effectiveness without feeling like a traitor to the scientific tradition. And so, after weighing these factors for many months, I concluded that I would pray for my patients” (Xviii). “[T]he evidence is simply overwhelming that prayer functions at a distance to change physical processes in a variety of organisms, from bacteria to humans. These data, …, are so impressive that I have come to regard them as among the best-kept secrets in medical science” (p.2). He believes the studies show that when lifting a person in prayer- with an attitude of empathy, love, compassion, trust, and gratitude- that prayer is effective.  This doesn’t mean that the results of prayer can always be predicted, but he found that the studies say that overall prayer has an effect. Of course there are still “sickly saints and healthy sinners” that show us that the spiritual world is a complicated place. For example, Paul had a thorn in his flesh that would not be healed (2 Cor 12:7).   We live in a world that is often beyond our control, but that should not stop us from praying.      
The fact that prayer doesn’t always bring physical healing doesn’t refute the fact that sometimes it does bring healing. We don’t understand how it all works, but sometimes it works and so we should pray for healing while also understanding that there are deeper purposes that might mean healing will not always come.  There may be a deeper purpose in suffering. Hemingway once wrote, “The world breaks everyone, and afterward many are strong at the broken places”.  Mysteriously sometimes God can bring a deeper healing for our soul out of suffering that we would not receive if the suffering were taken away. The healing and strengthening of our soul might be more important than our physical healing. But, we have to admit that sometimes we see no purpose in suffering. It is deeper and more mysterious than we can understand.
Jesus performed some amazing acts of healing. He healed people that were born blind. We even read about Jesus bringing people back from the dead. The most famous of these was Lazarus, but there are others as well (Jairus’ daughter- Mark 5; The Widow’s son at Nain- Luke 7). Jesus healed people, but it is important to remember that eventually they all died. Physical healing is only temporary. So physical healing really only points towards a greater healing.   
Jesus in his compassion and mercy is about healing the entire person, body, mind, spirit, … but this isn’t just a matter of healing the individual. Jesus also desires the healing of social relationships, which is why he places such an emphasis on forgiveness. Jesus’ ultimate goal is to heal the relationship between the world and God. Jesus’ physical healings (which are temporary) really foreshadow and symbolize that great healing.
In Jesus we see humanity as it was meant to be- he is the fully healed human being. This is God’s desire for us as well. The church is ideally meant to be an instrument of God used to help heal the split between the world and God. It has been said that the church is not a museum for saints, but a hospital for sinners.  We enter the church as broken, fallen, sick, and confused human beings, and through a variety of spiritual disciplines, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, and following the teachings of Jesus, we enter the process of becoming healthy. 
We see this healing most clearly in the saints (The feast of All Saints is in a few short days). They are the ones who have received the deep healing God is offering. They followed the way Jesus taught us and have been healed of their sin, and, being healed, show the Fruit of the Spirit- “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal 5:22-23).
The theologian Paul Meyendorff says, “the very purpose of the Church is to heal us, to restore the rift between God and humanity which is caused by our sin and leads to death. This is achieved precisely when we are united to one another and to God in the body of Christ, which is the church”… “Jesus Christ is here asking for nothing less than the healing of the whole world, all humanity, all creation. This is achieved when we come to know Christ, when we become one with him and with one another. Everything that the church does, all its sacramental and liturgical life, all its teaching, is directed at restoring the proper relationship between God and creation, which has been corrupted through our sinfulness. This is the real meaning of Christian healing, and it involves the whole person, body, soul, and spirit.”[1]
With that ultimate greater healing in mind, we are called to pray for people. This can be intimidating for some of us, but I promise that, if you are nervous about it, it gets better the more you do it. You might worry about stumbling over your words, but that is okay. The power of prayer is not in the eloquence of the words, it’s in the One who is listening. In prayer, it is more important to consider your heart over your words. Silence is okay. John Bunyan said, “In prayer it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart”. So if you are nervous about praying with someone that is okay. We were probably nervous about learning to ride a bike too.
As you are speaking with someone who is expressing some sort of pain, or expressing their need for help, you could ask, “do you want to pray about this?” or “What would you like prayer for?” Don’t impose, be polite, but they might be wanting prayer, and are nervous to ask for it.  When you pray, be honest with God and pray as you would if you were speaking to someone you respect and love. God is your loving Father. Be yourself. Be honest about worries and emotions and confusion. Take your time. Allow silence to be a part of the prayer as well. If it feels appropriate, hold their hand, or place your hand on their shoulder. Ask God to bring the healing that is desired.
In the Bible God has called us to pray for those who are suffering, so, in obedience and love, we pray. We can have confidence that God hears and has the power to act. We also recognize that there is a bigger picture God is aware of that is hidden to us. We pray trusting that God will work to do what is best for us. Our ultimate greater healing is his desire. As the church, this is who we are called to be. AMEN.   

[1] Paul Meyendorff, the anointing of the sick, p 19

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Christian Caregiving 4- caring for those who sin

Today we are continuing with our sermon series on Christian caregiving. Last time we spoke about caring for those who are suffering. This week we are talking about caring for people who sin.

We’ll start by looking at what sin is. If we look at the interaction between Eve and the serpent we will see an archetype of how sin works. Eve knew the commandment. They could eat from every other tree in the garden, just not that one tree. The serpent, who we know to be the Devil, the tempter, planted seeds of doubt in her. He suggested that maybe God isn’t really all that good. Maybe God is actually keeping something good away from her. That is the way we often look at sin- it would be a lot of fun if God just didn’t have a thing about it (Dallas Willard).

When Eve was convinced that God was not to be trusted in this matter, the first human couple decided that they would make their own decision about what was right and wrong, rather than trust what God has to say. And we read, “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.”

What we often don’t realize is that God tells us about sin for our benefit, not for God’s benefit. The only effect God feels from our sin his the hurt of watching us walk away from him and walk towards destruction. Letting us know the commandments and the consequences of sin is all for our benefit.

Notice too that Eve isn’t wanting to do something bad. She sees it as good. The fruit looks good for food. It was beautiful. And she believed it would make her wise. Sin works that way. We aren’t tempted to do evil as much as we are tempted to something good, but the way of getting it is wrong. Take stealing, for example. Nothing is wrong with having money, but robbing a bank to get it is where it becomes sin. When we sin we will be drawn by something good. In CS Lewis’ book the Screwtape Letters, a more experienced demon is mentoring a lesser demon on how to lead human beings astray. Screwtape bemoans the fact that demons have not found a way to produce a pleasure. The craft of the demons is to twist the good pleasures and place them out of context and towards false goals.

After eating the forbidden fruit of the knowledge of good and bad Adam and Eve feel the consequences of their sin. They gain knowledge of “bad”. We read, “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.” It says they knew they were naked and covered themselves. They felt shame. They felt vulnerable. Suddenly the world doesn’t seem very friendly. You have to protect yourself. They even try to hide from God. So there is suddenly a division between human beings caused by shame and fear of being hurt, and there is also a division between human beings and God- there is a desire to hide from God.

When Adam finally comes out from hiding he speaks to God and we see another aspect of sin. “[God] said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?’ The man said, ‘The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.’ Then the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this that you have done?’ The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate.’” None of them was willing to accept their sin. Adam blames Eve. Eve blames the serpent. But there is actually a subtle blaming of God if we read carefully. Adam says, “The woman whom you gave to be with me”. It wasn’t just Eve he blamed. He was basically saying if you didn’t create Eve I wouldn’t have done it. Instead of accepting their sin and asking forgiveness they pass the blame off to someone else.

Sin is what causes us to be separated from God. It is understood in a number of ways in Christianity. It can be willful disobedience to the command of God. Sin is sometimes understood as a twisted part of the human condition which is a state into which we are born because of the brokenness of the world. Sin can be understood as anything that violates God’s will for the way the world should be- a peaceful, joyful, and holy place.

Ultimately, sin is personal. We damage our relationship with God. We do what the Prodigal Son does. He basically wished is father was dead so he could have his inheritance and then leave. Our sin is not impersonal to God. It is spitting in His face.

It is more than just an action. The action is an expression of what is in our heart. Jesus says, “what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person” (Matt 15:18-20). A wise person once said, “We are not sinners because we sin. We sin because we are sinners”. We sin because our heart is inclined that direction. So to adequately deal with sin, we have to deal with more than the action. We have to deal with the motivation and lies that gave rise to the action. If we were counselling Eve we wouldn’t just look at the act of eating the fruit, we would look at what she came to believe about God that made eating the fruit a possibility.

God isn’t about just following the rules. If we take someone full of murderous rage and lock them away in prison so they couldn’t hurt anyone that person is not pleasing God. Their heart isn’t right, and that is what matters. The heart is what has to be dealt with. God wants humble hearts, which means we see ourselves clearly. He also wants us to have obedient hearts, which means we trust that what God says is good and isn’t trying to keep something good away from us. Oswald chambers taught that the source of sinful thought lies in the incurable suspicion that God is not good. We sin out of self-protection. We have to look out for ourselves because God won't.

When we care for people who come to us with their sin it is important to have an understanding of how sin works. There is an internal logic to it. It is usually is a desire for something good, but it is the wrong way to get it. With stealing, it is the wrong way to get a good thing. With pornography, it is the wrong way to look for intimacy. With gossip, it is the wrong way to seek excitement and build community. Sin is usually seeking a good that we believe God's ways deny us.

We should also be aware of our own tendencies to sin. Our impulses will be different, but should be careful about looking down on another person’s sin as nastier than our own. We might not understand their temptation because we have different temptations, but we all have temptations. And if you don’t think you have any temptations to sin, then you probably have to deal with your pride, which the saints tell us is actually the root of all sin.

The way Christians are to deal with sin is to confess it and then to receive God’s forgiveness. We read in John’s first letter, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9); “if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1-2). Our overall tendency in our Christian life should be towards less and less sin as we grow in the wisdom and likeness of God. But we do sin, and we need to deal with it.

Sometimes confession can take place in church on Sunday as we confess and receive absolution. Sometimes we confess alone to God when we say our daily prayers. But sometimes we need to actually speak our sin to another person. This is important to do and it can be very powerful and transforming when done with care and wisdom.

When people come to us with their sin, they might be doing so for a couple reasons. They might be wanting to confess it, which is a healthy way to deal with it. 

Or, they might also be wanting to justify it. They might be feeling guilty but aren’t ready to deal with it and so are rationalizing their action. Or someone might have confronted them about something they did and they are trying to get you on their side.

Someone can come to us ready to confess or not, either way it is a delicate situation. We can listen to them and ask questions, but we have to be careful of two different tendencies in us- and it’s important to know which way you lean.

One way you might lean is towards rationalizing their sin. You try to justify what they’ve done. You minimize the damage of the sin by talking about how what they did makes sense and they are really in the right. If they have sinned, but are trying to rationalize it, and you help them do this, then you have dug them further into their sin. If they have come to you ready to confess, then you have taken their confession away from them by making it's “not really so bad”; “they are just being too hard on themselves”.

The other way you might lean is towards being too harsh. They come to us with their sin and we condemn them as if we aren’t sinners ourselves- we are happy to help pluck the sliver from their eye, ignorant of the log in our own (Matt 7:1-5). When we are harsh we also often deal with the sin on a superficial level. We look at merely the outward action and not the inward motivations of the heart. Coming to us with sin can be incredibly difficult. It can be easy to hurt them or offend them if we are harsh. Either way we could do significant enough damage to the relationship that the opportunity for them to confess has been lost. And we might be the only person they felt comfortable bringing this too.

Avoiding both rationalizing their sin, and being too harsh, we want to help them confess. We do this mainly by listening well. We can ask questions, but only to help them talk. We don’t want to pry or embarrass them. We want to respect their privacy, but sometimes people need help talking about their sin. Sometimes when they come to us they want help understanding why they did it, or why they are stuck in a cycle of sin. Our questions might be used by the Holy Spirit to help them reflect and gain more understanding of the motivations behind their sin, or the lies they didn’t realize they believed. We can learn a lot about this by looking at Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. He is not harsh with her, but he doesn’t pretend she doesn’t sin.

When someone confesses truly, we should be able to see that it has been bothering them. There should be regret and a desire to not do the sin in the future. Then, as Christians, we get to be messengers of God’s forgiveness. We get to share with them God’s love for them. Just as the prodigal son was accepted by his father with open arms, so they are accepted and forgiven by their heavenly Father (Luke 15). Through the work of Christ on the cross, their sins are forgiven. You are a messenger of the loving and merciful Father in that moment. You can share that reality with them and pray with them.

To conclude, we want to have an understanding of how sin works. There is a certain logic to it, but it comes down to a distrust in God- trying to get something we think we deserve that God is denying us. When someone comes to us with their sin we should avoid both the tendency to minimize and rationalize the sin, and we should also avoid being overly harsh. Rather, we should adopt a position of prayerful listening and once the issue has been explored and the person recognizes the wrong they have done and expresses regret, then we have the privilege of speaking God’s message of forgiveness through the cross. AMEN

Monday, 3 October 2016

Christian Caregiving 3- caring for the suffering

We are continuing our series on Christian Caregiving this week. Last time we spoke about listening to someone we are caring for. This week we are speaking about caring for someone who is suffering.

Suffering can be one of the most difficult issues we deal with as Christians. I have found it helpful to deal with suffering on two levels. One level is the theological reality where I try to understand why suffering exists in the world. The other level is the emotional reality of the person who is suffering. I’m just going to share a few of the thoughts I have found helpful when dealing with suffering. They might bounce around a bit, so be patient with me.

On a philosophical/theological level we are confronted with the dilemma of how a loving and all-powerful God can allow suffering to exist. Suffering is an issue many theologians have wrestled with and we should be wary of giving any kind of easy answer to the problem of suffering. … One thought that has helped me though is the question- “Is the goal of human life happiness in this life?”… If we answer with anything but a “yes” we open the door to suffering of some kind. It doesn’t answer the problem of suffering, but it opens the door to a possible answer that God might have some good reason for allowing suffering to exist.

As caregivers I think it can be helpful to have some explanation of suffering that you find helpful, but I think we have to be very cautious about dumping our understanding on the people we meet who are suffering.

One understanding of suffering I carry around in my soul is this- I tend to believe that God cares more about us developing a Jesus-like character in relationship with Him than he cares about us being comfortable in this moment. If delaying fixing my problem will bring some development of holiness to me, I suspect God will choose that over fixing me in that moment and losing the growth in holiness. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12, “a thorn was given me in the flesh … to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:7-10). For Paul there was some suffering that was allowed in his life that he understood to have a holy purpose.

I believe that God can transform suffering to good ends. What was meant for evil God can transform and use for good (Gen 50:20). For example, to learn to be courageous we probably need a world with some danger in it. To learn to be patient we need a world with annoyance. To be compassionate we probably need a world with people whose suffering we can share. But, this probably doesn’t account for all suffering.

There’s another thought that I will often carry with me into being with someone who is suffering. Someone once asked me how I can believe in God when someone I love is suffering. I told them that in Christianity one of the places where God was most active in the world was on the cross as Jesus was dying. So I have to believe that while we feel like God is absent in the midst of suffering, the cross tells me exactly the opposite. God is incredibly present in the midst of suffering. Incarnation could be understood as Compassion. Compassion means to “suffer with”. God comes to suffer with us.

Another thought I carry is that we should beware of putting any sort of blame on the person who is suffering. Suffering is not a lack of faith. Remember that Jesus wept. Jesus seems to have felt forsaken as he died on the cross (Ps 22; Mk 15:34). And Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane also seems to imply a prayer that was unanswered. Jesus says to the disciples, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death” (Mark 14:34). Then we read, “And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will’ (Mk 14:35-36). Jesus suffered. God, through Jesus, knew suffering. If we remember the suffering of Christ when we come to someone who is suffering it should put us in a place of humility as we approach them.

While I believe some suffering is used to good purpose, I also believe there is some level of suffering in the world due to the sinful choices of human beings. If you drive drunk it is likely you will cause yourself suffering or cause someone else to suffer. To have free will means we have the freedom to hurt each other. I also believe that there is some level of chaos in the world, perhaps because we live in a fallen world. …

Most people aren’t bothered by suffering in an abstract theological way. Most are bothered by suffering in an experiential/ emotional way. When we are suffering, or, what is sometimes worse, when we are watching someone we care about suffer, that is when most of us feel tested. We feel like when we are in the presence of suffering that God has left the building. I think it was a moment like that that led to the psalmist writing, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Ps 22:1), which became Jesus’ words on the cross. I remember being with Seth in the hospital when he was 2 years old and praying for him to be healed and being incredibly impatient with God. It felt like, if Seth is healed then God is here, if Seth is still sick then God is not here. Emotionally that’s how it felt. …

Job’s friends actually have a lot to teach us about caring for those who are suffering. We read that, “They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him. And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads towards heaven. And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.” (Job 2:11-13). Compassion means to suffer with someone. Job’s friends cried with him and they sat in the dust with him for seven days and didn’t say a word. … There is something about the profound nature of deep suffering that often makes silence the only healthy response. Job has lost his family, his possessions and his health. All his friends can do is weep with him and sit in silence.

I don’t know if you have ever sat in silence with someone, but if you have there is a kind of tension that builds. I have heard that when you go to buy a car if you just give the salesperson the silent treatment the car will drop in price. The salesperson will speak to break the uncomfortable silence. We want to break the tension caused by the silence. When we are in silence with someone who is suffering there can be an incredible tension inside us to talk. Sometimes we speak to distract from the suffering and we talk about the weather, or some bit of gossip. Sometimes we will use clichés or try to give answers to a person’s suffering.

Job’s friends eventually try to give answers to his suffering. They say God would not allow a good person to suffer, so Job must be being punished for some secret sin. This way of thinking is present in the prophets and wisdom literature of the Bible. Proverbs 13:21 says, “Disaster pursues sinners, but the righteous are rewarded with good.” That sounds like what Job’s friends are thinking. If you are experiencing disaster, then you must be a sinner. This might be generally true. For example, if you are constantly driving drunk you are likely to get in a car wreck, or if you are having an affair your marriage is likely to be destroyed. Sin eventually leads to disaster of some kind. However, it is not always the case that everyone who suffers, suffers because of their sin. In Job we read that Job was “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1). Job was not being punished for some secret sin. Sometimes bad things happen to good people and sometimes good things happen to bad people. Things don’t always add up the way we want them to.

In Job’s story we find out that there was a disagreement between God and Satan. Satan says Job was only good because God rewarded him all the time- he made him prosperous. Satan says that if his prosperity was taken away that Job would no longer be righteous, he would even curse God. God believed otherwise. … It is like a parent who gives a child a candy for cleaning up their room. Eventually you want the child to clean up because they love you and it’s the right thing to do, not only because they get a candy. So Satan takes away Job’s blessings- his family, his possessions, and his health. The question sits in the air, “will Job still love God and do what’s right if he doesn’t get rewarded for it?”

Job in the depth of his suffering cries back to God asking how he can be allowed to suffer like he is if he hasn’t done anything wrong. Imagine a child who has cleaned their room and has been kind to their siblings- how can you deny them the candy you usually give them? Wouldn’t it feel like a punishment to them? But how can you know if they will be good when there is no reward unless you deny them a reward? This is the dilemma of the book of Job.

The friends keep saying that there must be some hidden sin in Job’s life. There must be some reason for this suffering that makes sense. We want an explanation for suffering that shows we live in a world that is predictable. If I do A then B will happen. But suffering doesn’t make sense that way. We can try to explain suffering away or use clichés that tend to minimize the suffering, but really we are dealing with our own anxiety and usually we are making things worse for the person who’s suffering, like Job’s friends did. Not only did Job lose everything, but now he was being blamed for his tragedy because of a secret sin. Job’s friends cared more about having an understanding of God and the universe that made sense to them, than they seemed to care about Job.

In the end of the book of Job God comes in a whirlwind and human wisdom is shown to be nothing in comparison to God’s wisdom. There are things going on in the universe that humans have no ability to grasp. Who are human beings to demand a response from the universe-creating God? God speaks to Job’s friends saying, “my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has” (Job 42:8). Those words should be in our minds whenever we try to explain away a person’s suffering.

When dealing with suffering I have often thought about Jesus’ mother, Mary, watching her son die on the cross. If you were standing with her, is there anything that you could say to Mary that would have made her feel better? What might you say? “Mary, don’t worry, God is going to use this to do something great”. Wouldn’t she just be offended if you said something like that to her? Even though it’s true, it probably wouldn’t be appropriate and probably wouldn’t help her in that moment.

I believe suffering can be transformed to good ends, just like the cross was. I don’t believe God causes suffering, but I think God can transform suffering. I think from the point of view of eternity, our suffering will be viewed the way we view the cross now. Our sufferings will become badges of our victory through Christ. … But, that is not necessarily something we can say to someone in the midst of suffering, just as we couldn’t talk to Mary about the good that will come from the cross as she watched her son dying on it.

So what does Mary need in that moment? She doesn’t need some answer to explain suffering. She needs someone to share her tears. She needs someone to suffer with her. She needs someone to hug her. She needs a listening ear and a quiet presence. She might need someone to help her cry out her pain to God. God said that Job spoke rightly, and Job is the only one who speaks to God in the book. He speaks his questions and expresses his anger to God.

We do for Mary what God did for us. The Creator of the universe took on weak, suffering, human flesh. God has not abandoned us in our suffering. He has joined us in our suffering. God does not sit off in the distance watching us suffer. He joins us in all the tears, and the filth, in the pile of dust and ashes. No explanation is given, but God came to sit with us in our mess. … As caregivers we also need to inwardly hold onto hope. God will not leave us in the mess. God will not let suffering have the last word in His good creation. Life does not end with a cross. It ends with resurrection and new life.

To conclude, it is helpful for us to have some inward understanding of why God might allow suffering and to also know that, In Christ, God came to share our suffering. But we should also be aware that Job was given no reason for his suffering, that Jesus suffered, and that theologians have wrestled with this for a long time, so we should avoid easy answers to a person’s suffering. We should also recognize that what people usually need when they are suffering isn’t an explanation, but compassion. They need someone to suffer with them. When humanity suffers, God mounted the cross to share it with us, rather than explain it to us. AMEN
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