If you have lived, then you too have suffered. None of us in this life escape suffering; the mystery that continues is why some seem to suffer much more than others. That particular phenomenon is often coupled with the struggle to understand why bad things often seem to happen to very good people. Rabbi Harold Kushner devoted an entire book: “When Bad Things Happen to Good People,” to that very question. He writes, “Laws of nature do not make exceptions for nice people. A bullet has no conscience; neither does a malignant tumor or an automobile gone out of control. That is why good people get sick and get hurt as much as anyone.”
Although, intellectually and theologically I agree with Kushner, truth be told in my three and a half decades of pastoral care it has seemed that a disproportionate number of these souls were incredibly good people.
When I was the priest and pastor of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Versailles, KY, there were 3 parishioners: Jane, Sarah and Jane, who were among the most loving and deeply good people that I have ever known. And, within the same period of 12 months, I ministered to each of them as they lost their battles to cancer and complications from surgery and passed into eternity at way too young an age. That year really shook my life and ministry. Have you ever had such a time?
I have come to understand that in our own suffering, or in that of someone whom we have cared for and loved, the greater challenge lies in what we do with that suffering. We may often feel that God is silent as we pray for healing and an end to the suffering. Though Kushner writes, “But people who pray for courage, for strength to bear the unbearable, for the grace to remember what they have left instead of they have lost, very often find their prayer answered.” I believe that it is here that we pass through that thin place to find unexpected joy.
You see, strange as it may sound, you and I can choose joy following suffering. We can choose to trust that what happened, painful as it may be, holds a promise. What is God’s promise to you? It is that God is already at work taking your suffering and painful experience and turning it into a greater good. And, knowing that this activity of God is bubbling up in our lives gives us the promise and hope to continue on. “Glory to God whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine…” (Ephesians 3:20)
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