Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Paradox of Suffering and God's Love

A few days ago I wrote an entry entitled “Sacrifices” to remind us that God wants our trust more than he desires sacrifices from us. The blog was prompted by our common desire to do something for God in order that we might get back into good relationship him, specifically when we experience suffering and question God’s favour toward us. When we or one of our loved ones experiences suffering, we may be tempted to question God’s goodness and his love for us. But it is at times such as these that we have the greatest opportunity to know and trust God’s love.

Gordon T. Smith, in his extremely helpful book, The Voice of Jesus: Discernment, Prayer and the Witness of the Spirit, speaks of the paradox in which we sometimes find ourselves.

The paradox, then, is that if we embrace suffering, rather than causing us to doubt the love of God, it becomes the context in which we come to learn, know and appropriate God’s love as our own. The very thing that might cause us to doubt the love of God (namely suffering) is the context in which it is most crucial and in which we are most capable of seeing and appropriating the love of God. This, surely, is what it means to live by faith – believing that God loves us, despite the contrary evidence.[1]

When suffering engulfs our lives, we can take stock and ask ourselves questions about our faith in God and his love toward us. Smith reminds us that we must rightly assess our suffering, as he quotes Thomas Merton regarding “exaggeration of our trials and crosses.”

Thomas Merton made a pointed aside when he wrote “I have a peculiar horror of one sin: the exaggeration of our trials and our crosses.” His words are a good reminder, for we easily complain when in fact we have it remarkably good. This is not a moment to suggest we do not suffer; it is merely to emphasize that we must not overstate our suffering.[2]

Smith then quickly goes on to say that, indeed, we all suffer. He rightly encourages us to place our suffering within the appropriate context.

All of us, like the friend I mentioned in the former blog, will experience suffering in this life. In the life of many people, this is where the road goes on in two directions: one toward bitterness and dismay toward God, and the other toward a greater understanding of God’s love toward us. If we desire to be ready for suffering that may come upon us, or if we wish to know how to deal with our already present suffering, we would do well to decide which course we will take when suffering occurs.

Smith, Gordon T. The Voice of Jesus: Discernment Prayer and the Witness of the Spirit. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003.

[1] Smith 2003, p. 85.
[2] Smith 2003, p. 85.

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