Suffering, doubt, and faith

You only have to look around at your own family and friends, and read the headlines on the news feeds, to see that some seem to suffer too much, right?

And it’s unbearable when it’s children who suffer. There are so many ways they can suffer, through wars and accidents. Birth defects or health problems. Parents get sick, or divorce. People die leaving little ones grieving. And there are people (not many, please God!) who neglect or do terrible things to children.

The other night I was finishing up writing a prayer session for primary school aged children, a joyful meditation on the annunciation, the visit of the angel Gabriel to Mary to announce that she’d been chosen to be the mother of God. And I’m writing this as final response or reflection:

Whenever something seems too hard and impossible to do, and we feel frustrated or alone, we can remember that God is always with us, and our angel is always

I stopped mid-sentence as I realise that it’s very possible a child will hear their teacher read this out, who is one of those who for whatever reason is suffering too much.

What do we say to them? How can we say that God is Emmanuel, God is with us, to that child? I’m thinking of terrible cases I’ve read about in the last few days, in book I picked up at the library, and on the news.

I took my fingers off the keyboard, and by rubbing my tired eyes tried to soothe my racing mind as well and I prayed, “Oh God! Are you really? How? How are you with that child?”

Because I couldn’t write that if I didn’t believe it was true. I couldn’t write that knowing that a terribly suffering child might see or hear it, and maybe believe it, and then feel let down, hurt multiplied, when God or an angel doesn’t magically make things right again. I don’t want to add to anyone’s suffering by perpetuating a false belief.

Mentally I reached inside myself to try to get a grip on what I really believe. Suddenly it was vitally important that I find a touchstone on which to test the validity of continuing to write this particular sentence.

What came to mind is that probably less than a year after that visit of the angel to Mary, hundreds of mothers saw their first-born baby sons ripped away from them and slaughtered because a tyrant king wanted to kill the Jewish infant king.

The joy of the annunciation, which bursts out of every word in the passage I was studying, and the birth of the promised saviour of the world didn’t prevent that evil from happening. I could understand atheism as I sat there, rubbing my eyes and wracking my brain for an answer which wasn’t forthcoming from my understanding.

I will never understand the suffering of innocents, or why God often doesn’t immediately intervene and stop it.

But I found my touchstone after another moment or so. I hadn’t grasped it and held it and turned it over in my mind’s eye for a while. It was this: I know that THE thing that God did when he intervened in the world was to suffer the suffering of an innocent.

He preached, he healed, he was an inspiring political leader and all the rest of it, but really, that was all peripheral to what he was really about. He came here to suffer unjustly and die. And he suffered the suffering of ALL innocents, including those in Australia in 2014.

And I know that somehow as the saints and mystics and Jesus himself promised, all will be made well. For the life of me, I don’t know how, but I do believe that somehow, one day, ‘every tear will be wiped away’ and there will be absolutely no room for pain or grief.

In the meantime I did the only thing I can do and prayed that, ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” more fervently than I have for a long, long time.

I thought about people whom I know survived traumatic childhoods, and I recalled that, terrible as things were, there was always someone to help them, to give them some comfort and hope and a way out of their misery. A teacher, or a friend, or even characters in books who illustrated that a better kind of life was out there.

I thought about all the times I’ve hurt or just felt confused or lonely – though I’ve had a fairly easy life. God has always put someone in my path to help me.

So I got back to work, finished the sentence about our angel watching over us, and added this:

Also Mary, after speaking with the angel, went straight to help her cousin Elizabeth. So we remember that there are always people in our lives who can help us as well.

And I sincerely prayed for that child, whoever and wherever he or she was, that this would always be so.

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