Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Hope Side By Side With Suffering Part 2

What got my brain churning around the idea of hope amidst suffering are podcasts I have listened to of the messages that Mars Hill Bible Church did on the book of Lamentations in March of this year. These teachings, especially one by Rob Bell on chapter three called New Skirts, have expanded my perspective on the friction I have experienced between suffering and hope. I am going to share some of what I learned in listening to that teaching.

Lamentations is a book of the Old Testament in the Bible where the author, Jeremiah, describes the destruction, the grief and the horrors that have taken place in the fall of Jerusalem. There are three "voices" in this five chapter book.  A narrator describes the state of distress of the city. The city, personified as a woman, speaks of her suffering. And in chapter three, a man, who witnessed the suffering, speaks of the devastation and pain.

In Lamentations 3:15-18, the man says,

The Lord filled me with misery; he made me drunk with suffering. He broke my teeth with gravel and trampled me into the dirt. I have no more peace. I have forgotten what happiness is. I said, "My strength is gone, and I have no hope in the Lord." 
Perhaps I have not eaten gravel or been trampled in the dirt. But, I go through seasons of my chronic illness where the pain and suffering I deal with every day is misery. I am empty and find myself weak, weary and without hope. Where is God? Why is he allowing such pain in my life?

Within a few verses of saying he is without hope, the man who has witnessed and experienced horrific suffering declares in Lamentations 3:20-24,
I well remember them [the experiences with suffering], and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, "The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him." 
Misery and yet hope. As I discussed in Part 1 of this series, I believe that these verses describe a hope of certainty. In his message, Rob Bell suggests that many people may believe that hope can not coexist with the presence of emotions of suffering. I had struggled with this notion of hope in the suffering of my chronic illness. When day after day after day after day is filled with pain, frustration, sadness or anxiety, it is hard to even consider hope. I believe that people (maybe religious folks in particular) expect that when someone goes through a struggle that they should not experience those aforementioned emotions because there is a certain hope (in God).  But actually, suffering sits with hope. Doubt sits with hope. Fear sits with hope. Confusion sits with hope.

According to Bell,

For many people, I guess (they believe:) "I don't measure up because my hope is laced with all sorts of other things."
Shouldn't it be that if I have a certain hope then I should not have doubt or fear or confusion? If my certain hope is the love of God, if my certain hope is the presence of God, then why do I have all of those other emotions?   According to Lamentations, hope is side by side with all these things. And that is just how it is. If I am doubting God, or afraid because I do not feel His presence or am confused because my life and pain just do not make sense, it does not make me a "weak" or bad person. It makes me real. Hope and suffering go together. In the midst of doubt and fear and frustration and anger and confusion, certain hope (the love of God, the presence of God), is always there. 

Keep a look out for the final part of this series on hope side by side with suffering.

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