August 31, 2021
Emalie Love Dockery
Laity, Central UMC
Tennessee Valley District
Why must the innocent suffer?
19 For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. 20 If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.
1 Peter 2:19-25 (NRSV)
22 “He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth.”
23 When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross,[a] so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds[b] you have been healed. 25 For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.
DevotionThe various answers to this question leave me cold. “God doesn’t cause the suffering, but He allows it to _______ .” Fill in the blank with any platitude you’ve heard. Our suffering makes us stronger, turns our hearts to Him, redeems us, is caused by the devil, is caused by our own sins or the sins of our parents. None of this works when we are suffering. We live in a broken and fallen world. All of this is worth considering, but none of it satisfies me.
Why must the innocent suffer? We might well ask, why must the innocent love? If we love, we are bound to suffer. Great suffering comes from our vulnerability, but this doesn’t seem like a good system. We open our wounded hearts and love imperfect people in this broken and fallen world, and inevitably, we suffer for it.
Some of us try to protect ourselves from this agony by holding ourselves back from caring or trusting. But this approach has two consequences. Either we succeed in keeping everyone at arm’s length until our loneliness becomes bitter and unbearable. Some of us try to fight off our isolation with alcohol, or food, or overwork, gambling, toxic relationships, or the pursuit of wealth. This list of substitutes for avoiding pain is incomplete, and Twelve Step Programs exist for all of them. Others of us create a story in which we will not be hurt next time the disappointment comes because we already know what is coming; we are ready for it, and we are determined not to be ambushed this time. This approach never works, either.
The whole system is rigged against us getting out of life unscathed, even with Jesus, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. (Isaiah 53:3) C.S.Lewis knew grief and its ability to have us question our maker. “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” The Problem of Pain
I walked through suffering with my friend, Martha, whose only daughter died in an accident. Ginny was everyone’s favorite babysitter, gifted at working with troubled teenaged girls, and now about to graduate from college, about to marry a fine young man. Then came the unthinkable moment that every parent pushes away until the phone rings and, without warning, the universe cracks open.
Martha and her husband Harry waded through grief, surrounded by a good church, caring neighbors, a solid extended family, and concerned friends. They had usually been the comforters, but instantly, Martha and Harry became the bereft. And we became the helpless friends, bringing food that they couldn’t eat and vacuuming rugs that were already clean. The church was filled to overflowing, but only much later could they remember who was there at the funeral and only with the help of the book where we signed our names, not knowing anything else to do.
Days, months, and years trudged on, and then the anniversaries began to line up, each one the cruelest endurance test. Through those long days, Martha and Harry turned to each other. But slowly and bravely, they also turned outward. Martha, always a writer, began a blog for the broken-hearted. She became an expert on parental grief from the inside and also from the outside, reading, researching, interviewing, and always walking along side, proof that one survives. Out of her own loss, she has helped unnumbered parents, building meaning and purpose across the cavernous abyss.
Additionally, Martha and Harry reached out personally to one of Ginny’s friends, Candice, enduring her own loss. Candice lost custody of a preschool daughter, Maddie, during an unexpected and unwanted divorce. The visitation arrangement left this newly single mother with no options but to pay full-time for childcare when she only needed childcare every other Friday, and paying child support already left her short of funds. Candice had visitation only every other Thursday through Sunday, but she had to work on Fridays. Martha and Harry volunteered to keep Maddie on those cherished Fridays so that Candice could keep her job, and also have Maddie Thursday through Sunday nights. It was a godsend for Candice and Maddie, but the blessings flowed into Martha and Harry as well. Maddie’s trust and affection melted into their hearts and their arms. Pictures of Maddie asleep on Harry’s chest or riding on Harry’s shoulders during their outings filled new albums and picture frames. Maddie’s artwork filled their refrigerator door. Maddie was certainly not a replacement. She was evidence, though.
Grace always bats last.
We follow One who suffered. We gather to mourn with those who mourn. We show up with casseroles and vacuum cleaners. We call and send cards. Even in a pandemic, we try to weave a safety net around the loved ones. We offer the communion of saints. We remind one another and ourselves that the cross is empty and so is the grave. And grace usually arrives just in time, and often in an unlikely vessel, but nevertheless grace shows up and little by little soaks into our broken places, allowing the light in again.