Lately I have been reflecting on human suffering, pain and weakness. It is obvious that many people are adverse to pain, adverse to not just their own pain or suffering but adverse to other’s pain and suffering as well.
The last couple of weeks the lectionary readings have been a study in entering in with the other. We are encouraged to take up our cross, to deny ourselves, encouraged to embrace an image which symbolises weakness and foolishness to many. Jesus overturning the tables at the temple was more a statement about people and relationships as it was about pious temple observance. The marketplace in Jesus day was not a place of justice or fair practice. It was a place where people were cheated.
A Cross to Bear
Many people reduce the idea of taking up a cross by implying that any pain, any suffering, any challenge out of the realm of our control is a “cross to bear.” This line of theology assumes, incorrectly, that God is about reward and punishment. Behave the proper way and all is well…piss me off and watch out. We hear the partner of “cross to bear” all the time in “I am so blessed.” Again the implication is clear. Those who have lots and with whom all is well – God has “blessed.” Those who have suffering and pain, those who are grieving, or addicted, or dying with cancer or any other terminal illness – God has given a “cross to bear.” In my mind, nothing could be further from the truth. To take the position aforementioned, one is by extension saying that those painful things are imposed by God. If you read some of the silly emails that get passed around proving God is real and why there is suffering they all imply that people are not doing enough. They are not getting it right. Tell me – What did Jesus do wrong to get “his cross to bear?” I cannot follow a God who would indulge in that kind of punishment at one moment and dole out candies at the next. If one wants to bear a cross he will seek out pain and suffering and be present to it. If one wants to bear a cross she will find a place of oppression and try to change it. If one wants to bear a cross he will find a person hungry and feed her. If one wants to bear a cross she will hold the hand of the lonely. There are plenty of crosses to bear. They all happen to be things we can do something about.
Journey to Easter
The incarnation – God made flesh – should be for us real place of knowing that God knows all about our suffering. We are moving toward Holy Week. We will soon hear the story of the Passion retold. God enters into our suffering. God knows intimately what we go through. Instead of trying to explain away the pain and suffering we experience as a statement that “not enough are coming to the Lord,” why can’t we see that God is weeping with us when we suffer and has come to us? When it is all told and the story is complete we see that light triumphs. The story is a full story. The hard parts are not left out. God comes to us … it is not an easy journey. We ought to journey then to another … even when it is not an easy journey. God goes with us.