“If there is meaning in life at all, then there must be meaning in suffering” — Viktor Frankl
When we experience contradictions, it rocks our faith. How can God be love when the experience we find ourselves in is the opposite of love? How can He be good when evil seems like it’s winning? I wish, sometimes, I were one of those people who could just accept that two contradictions can coexist and leave it at that, but God has not rigged my DNA that way. I need to be able to settle this tug-of-war inside.
With all my heart, I know God is love. I know He will use my travails for good. I know He will redeem the heart pain, but what I want to have is a fresh perspective on how a God of love can stand to watch His loved ones be attacked and lambasted on every side and not intervene.
As a human being, who often acts unlovingly, I could not stand to watch someone I cared about experience what our family went through during our son’s sickness and after his death. So how can God, who is defined as love, allow it to happen? Character building and God’s redemptive plan bring meaning to my suffering, but they don’t compensate for my loss. I recognize that the greatness of Jesus lies in His death—that His death transformed the world. I also believe that the fruit of Zach’s life gained momentum at his death, but I want him back to love and touch and hold. He was my love, my sweet boy of grace. The cost for me has been much too high. Only when I get to heaven will God right the evil that has pounded hard on my family.
The character George McDonald in C. S. Lewis’ Great Divorce says that, “Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn agony into glory.” Until that time, God gleans the goodness out of the tragedy, but why does He often seem so aloof at the pinnacle of our pain? At the crux of our suffering, I scream out as Moses did: “If this is how you are going to treat me, please go ahead and kill me.” (Num. 11:15 NIV). What I want to understand is why God doesn’t do more during those moments of anguish when we wish He’d just strike us dead.
Different Kinds of Power
Robert Farrar Capon, in his book Kingdom, Grace, Judgment, helped me to understand the seemingly indifferent attitude God takes during our darkest hours. He describes God as choosing to use “left-handed power” instead of “straight-line” power. Left-handed power is born out of love that allows us to work with God to bring His purposes on earth as they are in heaven. When God allows us to be a part of His purposes, it is like a Mom or a Dad allowing their little children to “help” even though their helping is likely to be messy and slower and less efficient. Right-handed power is pushing and shoving, forcing your purposes to come forward the way you want, but it is void of relationship. God chooses relationship over right-handed power, which, unfortunately, means we can choose to do hurtful, evil things instead of good.
John 4: 7-8 says, “Love one another because love comes from God.” God’s “loving consent to freedom” (Brad Jersak) came at a great cost. The world moans waiting to be redeemed because God’s creation has forgotten to love. People look at suffering and ask what kind of a God allows such atrocity? We pass the buck and blame God for what is happening in the world. We blame God for cancer, poverty, child slavery, rape, divorce, murder, and all the ugliness of society; we shake our fists at Him for His impotence. God could fix everything with straight-line power, but He elevates our freedom and our choice to love above all else. Love isn’t really love unless it is the choice to love. Robotic love isn’t love at all. We do not know compassion, love, joy, freedom, and peace without having first experienced its opposite.
“God’s kingdom doesn’t advance through freedom-violating force . . . God’s kingdom reign is the advance of supernatural love through His creation.” — Brad Jersak
Brad Jersak advocates for love being the more excellent way, superseding right-handed, straight-line power: “Love will have its way, because while it may look like passive consent to [suffering], it is stronger than death, more jealous than the grave, more vehement than a flame. Many waters cannot quench love, nor floods drown it.”
Working With Him
Malachi 3:16 speaks of God’s “scroll of remembrance.” Our Father is keeping a journal of us—not the bad stuff, but the good. He keeps track of when we pray for our enemies, feed the poor, love the unlovely, overcome darkness with light, keep our faith when we have every reason to give up on it. He “collects our tears in a bottle” (Psalm 56:8) and allows our tribulations to hone our character so we can become more and more like Jesus. In order for us to participate in His unfolding creative work, He chooses freedom over straight-line power so together, He and us, the ones He delights in and rejoices over with singing (Zephaniah 3:17) could write the story of human history. When we work alongside God, it looks like Him, and it looks like us—together we run into the darkness and release the light.
Granted, it would be easier for God to use right-handed, straight-line power, but He has “instead chosen to stand before us, arms extended, while He asks us to walk, to participate in our own soul-making. That process always involves struggle, and often involves suffering.”
When I take a look at the characteristics I like most in myself, it is the ones forged during suffering that have made me look more like Jesus. “We are not put on earth merely to satisfy our desires, to pursue life, liberty and happiness. We are here to be changed, to be made more like God in order to prepare us for a lifetime with him.”
When we hurt and allow Jesus to love us out of our pain, He can move us toward His intentions for good so that we can lift our gaze from the darkness to the glory and goodness of God. A God who chooses left-handed power asks if we, His beloved children, will join with Him to feed the poor, rescue children in slavery, and go out into the nations to set people free. He could snap His fingers and fix everything, but we’d be robbed of the joy of partnering with God and becoming more and more like Him in character, moving from glory to glory.