A recent Facebook post in a closed group started with these words, “2014 was a tough year.” Then it went on to describe a harrowing experience of a medical condition known as thymoma. Thymona is an uncommon tumor originating in the thymus, which is located behind the sternum and in front of the heart. The operation to remove the tumor was successful but it damaged part of his diaphragm. He is now going through the recovery process and this is what he wrote, “I suppose I am at a sort of crossroads. There’s plenty to figure out and probably plenty to get down to do at some point. For now I am thankful for each new day, because each new day brings us the abounding grace of our Lord.”
I gave the above much reflection and I responded with this strange encouragement:-
Thanks for your heartfelt sharing. I am encouraged. Your crossroad reminded me of Isaiah 53:10: "It has pleased the Lord to bruise the servant." In some version, it reads, "It has pleased the Lord to crush the servant!" Is the word “crush” frighteningly encouraging? If one has to crush the grapes for wine and crush the rose for fragrance, then is the process of crushing a prelude to growth and resiliency? Alas, every life is a torment of some sort. Our pain is either a permanent stumble or a building block. But personally I will never come to know love, faith and hope intimately without pain.
Yet, having said that, I avoid it because I am afraid that it may somehow rob me of the same thing I crave after (that is, love, faith and hope). I would be dishonest to say that every pain invariably brings me closer to God. It actually doesn't. Oftentimes it brings me further. It brings me away from Him. I look away because looking away is my way of telling Him that His way is hard; even more painful than the pain itself.
Mother Teresa once wrote to her spiritual director in 1979: “Jesus has a very special love for you…as for me – the silence and the emptiness is so great – that I look and do not see, - listen and do not hear.” When Job’s wife pleaded with him to curse God and die, Job rebuked her: “We accept good things from God; and should we not accept evil?” For me, these words of the faithful are so hard to swallow because they describe a love that defies all definitions yet denies one’s desperate supplication.
Imagine an all-powerful God - who can heal all, solve all, settle all by an effortless snap of a finger and then he refuses for whatever reason to snap those fingers - and He's waiting for me to respond in my pain instead of Him responding first (I mean, who is really suffering right?) What is He waiting for? And what's more...waitforit….to expect me to respond in a way that signals to Him that I am stronger and better in the midst of my pain (while going through all that dread and hopelessness?). How screwed up is that? If this is love, then it is strange love. It is love with an attitude, an almost defiant one. And Job describes it too painfully well when he said, “I cry out “Justice!” I am not heard. I cry for help, but there is no redress. He has barred my way and I cannot pass; he has veiled my path in darkness; He has stripped me of my glory, and taken the diadem (crown) from my brow.” (Job 19:7-9)
Pain in whatever form is a frightening thing. It is always bigger than I am. But they say my God is bigger than that. Yet, his bigness is often hidden. What use is size without tangibility? It is strength but not expendable. It is there but not there. It is visibly invisible, so to speak. It is the evidence of things unseen (well, good luck telling an atheist judge that). It is a presence you can bet your last bottom dollar on but the caveat is that the delivery of your winnings is indeterminate, unknown, maybe even suspended indefinitely. That's a paradox I know, and it is a paradox of tortured uncertainty.
CS Lewis once toyed with the idea of God as a cosmic sadist when his beloved wife was battling cancer (and eventually died of it). But a sadist is one who is devoid of empathy, love and sacrifice, which is the antithesis of the Cross. And Calvary whips that thought back into cosmic oblivion for me. A God who dies for his creation is not a sadist but a realist, that is, one who believes that pain opens a rugged way to personal redemption and freedom. And the bloody Cross is the imprimatur of this divine realist. I guess a broken reed He will not break and he will likewise not put out a smothering wick. And the gospel of suffering is more often than not the good news disguised as a very bad accident (or a series of bad accidents).
I have said enough. Sorry for the rambling. Your intro and your fight had inspired me and I don't need to know you personally for me to be inspired by your words because your struggle is as universal as the nose on our face.
Ultimately, my hope is still stubbornly in the Lord and my hosanna is born in the furnace of doubt. Although the unnerving battle of hope and doubt still persist in my life, it is the emergence of the former (hope) by a stubborn margin that keeps my faith aflame. Here, the words of Alexis de Tocqueville resonated with me; “Religion therefore is only a particular form of hope, and it is as natural to the human heart as hope itself. Only by a kind of aberration of the intellect and with the aid of a sort of moral violence exercised on their own nature do men stray from religious beliefs; an invincible inclination leads them back to them. Disbelief is an accident; faith alone is the permanent state of humanity.” And more biting than the torment of a trial is the torment of this “invincible inclination” leading me back to hope and faith and the same grows ever greater the greater the suffering.
I therefore extend the same heartfelt words to you my stranger-friend and pray that in your own trial, you will find greater, if not comparable, measure of strength, hope and faith to face them all. Cheerz.