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  • Writer's pictureIan Gulland

"Why?!" Suffering (September 2021)

Updated: Aug 24, 2021

Responding to suffering

In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears. (Psalm 18.6)

We have all been impacted by the suffering we see happening close to home, among our families, neighbours, and I am sure you have experienced some form of suffering over the past year. As we look at what is happening globally- in covid-ravaged developing countries, the natural disaster in Haiti and the tragic and unimaginable suffering (and evil) in Afghanistan, it leaves us feeling helpless and asking why?

Because good and innocent people do suffer and bad things happen to them, the word on our lips is often ‘Why’? It is a good question. Of course, some people try to give answers, and this is an area where there is a real possibility of sounding trite. For no matter how great or small the pain, it is always all-consuming to us. Slick and easy answers do not diminish our (and other’s) grief, usually they multiply it.

So let me allow you to listen for a moment not to me, but to a man who has suffered more than most and has gone through as much as anything you might have gone through already or may face in the future.

Victor Frankl was a Jewish psychiatrist who experienced life in several of the death camps during the Holocaust and he spent some time in Auschwitz. He was a good man, who spent his life trying to help other people. When the US Army eventually liberated Dachau, the camp he was then in, he had lost his wife, his family and his health. He had seen more pain and suffering than any human being could be expected to bear.

When people asked him how he coped- how he went on not just living, but helping other inmates survive their own private hells- he said this: ‘Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms- to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.’

When the bad times come, we can be forgiven for becoming bitter, for seeking revenge, for ceasing to believe that there is a God who loves us. That is understandable. But Frankl says there is another way. We can choose a different response. We can choose not to condemn ourselves to a prison of a thousand ‘what-ifs?’ We can choose faith over cynicism. We can choose to affirm that though it is broken and battered, this is still a beautiful world, with endless possibilities for redemption and hope.

Through Jesus, God offers hope. We can approach a God who willingly suffered for us, understands, and who listens and responds to our ‘why?’ questions. You may have many other questions as you seek to respond to Jesus’ offer of being ‘the way, the truth and the life’. As Frankl encourages us, let’s not lose hope and embrace our freedom to choose the way.

Mother Teresa once said "God shapes the world by prayer. The more praying there is in the world the better the world will be, the mightier the forces against evil." As we seek to pray for those who are going through so much uncertainty, experiencing evil, pain and suffering, at home or abroad, why not use this to help structure your prayers...

Prayer of St Clement of Rome (101 AD) in the midst of suffering and persecution:

We beseech You, Master, to be our helper and protector. Save the afflicted among us; have mercy on the lowly; Raise up the fallen; appear to the needy; heal the ungodly; Restore the wanderers of Your people; Feed the hungry; ransom our prisoners; Raise up the sick; comfort the faint-hearted.

Every blessing

Revd Ian

For a recent talk on how Christians are given all they need for difficult times (the armour of God), you may want to listen to this talk.

(Source: The Wisdom House, Parsons)

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