“All of this suffering, it’s because of sin.”
Her words were truth, that suffering is rooted in sin. We experience disease and people die young, children are borne with handicaps they must contend with for the rest of their life, all because of Adam and Eve and their lethal decision to rebel against God thousands of years ago.
I cringe, because that’s the short list of the cruel disfigurement of His very good.
But what about the other thing she said, that God wanted to give me a baby and it would be His delight to do so because God gives good gifts? If this was so, why doesn’t He? Is God so bound by the root of sin and the devil?
A couple of weeks later I sit in Sunday School and we talk about suffering and physical torment and cruelties of life we face or watch others face. We confess our tendency to blame God as though He were the one afflicting us.
My heart twists with the grief of such confession – some of it my own. Why is our Great Lover always the easiest to blame?
I remember what I thought several weeks before, “Is God so bound by the root of sin and the devil?” Because it seems like we repent from blaming God only to excuse God from having any responsibility in our affliction, as though the sovereign King of the universe didn’t have Satan on a leash. As though our sufferings didn’t pass by the Hand of God Himself, as though He was clueless of our pain or inhibited from intervening on our behalf.
Is it possible we understand where suffering comes from but not what suffering can be? Is it not possible to suffer and to reign?
There we sat wrestling and finally she spoke, this prophet woman with an eighty-seven-year story of suffering and redemption. I felt my heart lift off its feet with her words of gentle reprimand. “We are speaking from a carnal perspective,” Her hands move with her mouth, gesturing passionately, “We have experienced the new birth! We are new. We are new!”
She said more, but it was those words that squeezed my heart tight and twisted, like a dishcloth wringing out the extra water, the excess of humanity I sit sopping in all draining away.
If it was God’s delight to give me a baby, what was stopping Him? Wasn’t God still the same God who caused barren, post-menopausal Sarah to conceive? Could my body be so irretrievably corrupted that God Himself couldn’t breathe life into my members…if He so chose?
I breathe in sharply, because isn’t that it more than anything? More than sin corrupting God’s perfect Creation, more than all of our pain being the fault of God, do we struggle most with suffering because we don’t want to accept or believe that God might have chosen to allow our sorrow?
God is love, that’s not His plan. We’re always quick to smooth over any ugly notions that suffering might be a part of His redemptive agenda for our lives. And yet, if God doesn’t ever willingly allow us to suffer, we are left with the revolting alternative that He’s not really who He said He is, sovereign and ruling over all, including Satan.
When I was four weeks pregnant, I drove around the block three times in the dark, crying aloud to Jesus. I didn’t want to believe that it was true, that there was life stirring inside my womb. Believing would open my heart to fall in love, to fall in love would open the door to possible heartbreak, if.
Jesus spoke to me that night. When I pulled into our driveway and the motion lights flooded the yard, I was confident – beyond a shadow of doubt – that my feelings, those first baby flutters, weren’t imagined. I was with child.
Two weeks later, the Tuesday before Mother’s Day, my body cramped and bled and birthed death. The fetus was intact and even through my sickened shock and dismay, I marveled. It looked just like the pictures of a six week fetus.
Was God to blame? Was He so cruel to inflict this or incompetent to stop this?
As I had been with child, so He was with me. Jesus was there when I scrunched my pillow and sobbed myself to sleep. He was with me in church on Mother’s Day when I sat there feeling empty, cold and deficit of life. He was with me on December 27th when I woke up and remembered that this was the day, my due date.
I agree with my friend on one point. The fundamental cause of suffering is sin. But what is the fundamental purpose of suffering in the life of the blood-bought son and daughter of God? Why must we suffer in order to reign?
Ann Kiemel Anderson, she said, I could make sorrow my friend or my enemy. Only when you know sorrow do you know how to celebrate! And she knows what sorrow means, losing eight babies, going through over five surgeries in less than six months, getting off the airplane a thousand plus miles from home and finding out the birth mother changed her mind.
I could make sorrow my friend or my enemy. Those words stick to me like glue.
I could blame God and say it’s all His fault.
I could blame Satan and say that God could do nothing to stop it.
They are both lies that keep me from embracing my sorrow and receiving the gift of restorative redemption. Jesus came for the broken. Jesus heals the wounds. Jesus wipes the tears. Jesus illumines darkness with light. Jesus breathes life into death.
My friend Sara buried her five-month-old little boy last Saturday. The crib in her house lies empty. Her little boy lives in heaven now. Sometimes I think my arms ache with emptiness, but oh how hers must throb.
She suffers a deep pain, but she is reigning inside of the vacancy with unfathomable devotion to God. Her suffering has turned her heart towards Him, not away. I know it’s because of Jesus. That’s what she said at the funeral of her baby boy, We couldn’t do this without Jesus.
And this is why we can suffer and still reign.
We suffer because our baby dies before his first birthday or a friend battles life-threatening cancer before she turns thirty and the blind neighbor lady has failing kidneys and we suffer because we know the list of wounds is endless.
And we can do it, this living of anguish, because we have Jesus. Sometimes it’s just a thread of hope we cling to, but even in the moments we helplessly twist with pain, we reign because we overcome. Because we hope in something greater. Because we believe in the resurrection.
He restores us and we reign with Him.