Suffering and Survival: It’s a Question of Who
- Monday, July 31, 2006
Whenever I attend church, I am approached by a large group of well-wishers. It is not because many of them know me personally or have read my new book, So Close, I Can Feel God’s Breath. It’s for a far different reason. They want to draw close to someone who suffers.
It’s not commonplace for me to feel so welcome when I am out in the world. In other places, such as the mall, some people actually go out of their way to avoid me. I choose to think it’s not because they are seeing me, but visualizing themselves in my place — in a wheelchair. They may be afraid of what I've become. But are they even more afraid of what might become of them?
Peter Kreeft, professor of philosophy at
How strange, since pain is an inevitable part of the human condition. Yet, even modern medicine is often at a loss when it comes to the issue of suffering.
I know, because I prevailed upon the medical profession for 16 years to find an answer to what struck me down in the prime of my life, at the peak of my career as a clinical psychologist specializing in behavioral medicine at Harvard. I met doctors so frustrated by being unable to cure me that they defensively dismissed my symptoms as being "all in my head." Finally, a top researcher at the Muscular Dystrophy Association proved them right. He analyzed muscle biopsies taken from my quad muscle and discovered that it was in my head — and all over my body. I was suffering from a rare form of muscular dystrophy.
Our society may deny pain, but we Christians know that suffering exists as proof of our fallen state. Maybe that’s why the congregants in my church can more easily approach a sufferer like me. They know that, in this fallen world, suffering is inevitable. Jesus did not come to make this world a rose garden. He came to wear its thorns and suffer so that He could redeem our suffering. They also know that because of Jesus we can survive our suffering and go to a much better place. The harder question is: how will we get through our trials before we get there?
As a Jew lying in a sickbed searching for answers, I struggled with this question for years, and unfortunately found more questions than answers. Then I met Jesus in a most unexpected epiphany and not only gained new life, but also blessed assurance that I will survive death. What I was not so sure about was how I would survive life — and just how much Jesus would really be there to help me.
I still struggle with this question even now that I know Jesus came. It was easier for me as a Jew to accept an inconceivable, unreachable, unknowable God’s apparent indifference in response to my suffering than the apparent inaction of the personal God who reached out to me in His Son when I merely whispered the name Jesus. I sometimes still question why God, who was so present with me at that miraculous moment, seems to sit idly by and do nothing to heal me or alleviate my suffering. Or does He?
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