Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Grief Manifesto (posted as "Reflections" on Facebook)

I did my thesis on the value of suffering--actually the paper in the library is one I consider unfinished--and in my research I concluded these things:
1.) These things happen for a reason. A Reason Exists.
2.) Even death can be the provision of God. Yes, that sounds crazy. It also feels crazy. It's one of those God paradoxes, like the incarnation, the crucifixion, the resurrection--which, of course, are all tied in with this.
3.) Basil the Great's homily goes down such a long laundry list of possible reasons for why the bad things in this world could be, my conclusion was that it could be caused by any number of those things, so why speculate? Only God knows; I won't understand it til the hereafter.
4.) Even if I knew what the reason were, I wouldn't like it. Especially now. If you try to guess it, you'll probably guess wrong anyway. Even if you're right in your speculation, it would probably only make things worse. Perhaps that is why we are bewildered and confused by it, and why the future is hidden from us. If we knew it, could we bear it?
4) The only evil that is evil in and of itself is sin, which originates from man, not God; other things we perceive as evil (like physical suffering) might actually have some purpose for good. And that evil itself is a parasite, a corruption of that which was good from the beginning. Only that which is good truly exists, and that not in and of itself, but because God sustains it. All that is created depends on the provision of the Creator to exist; only God exists in and of himself, and He is the ultimate Good.
5) It's enough for me to know that A Reason Exists. I actually don't want to know it.
6) If suffering is good for anything, it's to train you in virtue. Of course, that's what the fathers say everything is for.

But nevertheless. I am reminded of Joseph's words to his brothers, "You meant it for evil, but the Lord meant it for good." Also of Romans 8:28: "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose."

It is no accident that those words come right after the passage that begins, "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance." (Romans 8:18-25)

The whole creation--and, Paul goes on to say, we ourselves--groan like a woman in labor. I have never been in labor, but I have it on good authority that it is a painful experience. But Paul is analogizing this to all the sufferings of this life. And all the ills of the world are likewise like labor pains. As the pregnant woman endures the pain of labor in the hope of holding a newborn babe, so we endure the pains that come with living in hope of the resurrection, of being delivered from corruption. We are like women in labor, but it is we who are being born. Which is, of course, a paradox; but so it most of the really true stuff in theology. That's why we call it a mystery. And of course, Paul speaks of perseverance--perseverance through the agony of this world, which longs to be delivered from corruption.

Only after speaking of suffering, labor pains, and perseverance does he say, "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose." All things. Not just the good things, not just the happy things, not just the things that our senses would call good, or our human understanding, which is finite, but ALL things. We hope for what we do not see--and one of those things which we hope for, which is given us in the life of the age to come, is the understanding of the why of all this.

We were not created for a world stained by sin and suffering and death; therefore our human understanding rebels at this. Death in particular. But the hope of us Christians is that death has already been defeated and made finite, by the paradox of the cross: that God took on himself all that goes with being human, even suffering, torture, and death--and by doing so broke their power forever. Death is horrible--death is beyond all human understanding--but death is not permanent! This is the hope of us Christians. This was Nelson's hope. The suffering of separation that I endure by his death is the suffering of labor pains, but it is I who am being born. He, however, is already there.

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