Monday, April 14, 2014

Sunset suffering

It's been gorgeous the last few days. Shhh, I'm not supposed to tell you that. People in our neck of the woods think that it's a great joke to let the rest of the world think that it's rainy and gray 98% of the time, that we don't know what sun looks like. But I'll let you in on the secret, it doesn't rain nearly that much. Maybe only 85% of the time. Maybe. And we're kind of like the little girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead. You know, from the the nursery rhyme? My mother used to say it to my sisters and me whenever one of us was pouting: "When she was good she was very, very good...and when she was bad, she was horrid." Here in the northwest corner, when it's good, it's very very good.

I just stepped out my front door and took this picture because I wanted to share it with you. See what I mean? Doesn't such a sunset make you want to stand up and take notice?

Here's the thing. I've been sitting inside all evening working on my computer with my back to this view. It wasn't until the sun hit the glass in my china hutch and bounced back, hitting me in the eyes that I opened my eyes to what was beyond my computer screen. Then I turned around in my chair and saw this.

The problem is that we have to be looking to see beauty.  This morning I read in Psalm 119:
"It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees."  (71)
 "I know, Lord, that your laws are righteous and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me." (75)
"If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction." (92)
That's the way to look at affliction. That's how I want to look at it. I want to see it as beauty and something that comes from the faithful hand of God. When I'm staring up at Him, rather than at my own life, it gets put in better perspective. This isn't an easy thing. I'm not suggesting it is. But I'm speaking as a person who suffers, not as a person who speaks philosophically about them. For me suffering, or 'the problem of pain,' (as CS Lewis called it) is not an abstract question. It's wholly real. It's perhaps the most real question any of us face.
What strikes me is that this view from my front steps is of a day dying. The most gorgeous parts of a day are its beginning and end. And in the human life, there is pain associated with both ends. We enter and leave this world suffering (or at least causing suffering to others). So why do we resist it as an enemy? Why isn't it possible that these words from Psalm 119 are the best antidote to the enemy's compounding our suffering with doubt? "In faithfulness you have afflicted me." In HIS faithfulness."You are good and what You do is good." (Psalm 119: 68)

Don't read this and think I am so simple as to not consider that there is evil afoot in this world and, with evil, comes suffering of a maleficent kind. I am NOT so simple. If you know the difference, you can be sure I do as well. I'm talking about run-of-the-mill "I have chronic pain that impedes my entire life" suffering, not 'There's genocide happening in three different countries across the globe even as we speak" suffering. That's for another day...and is so much more complex I don't dare try to tackle it without a whole lot more theological ammunition and maybe even a better minds. More brilliant scholars than I work on this then have it fall down like a house of cards when they're struck with personal suffering--See CS Lewis, Problem of Pain and A Grief Observed.

Therefore, in typical circular fashion, I come back to my point. Your main issue isn't really global suffering anyway. It's your own. It's what you have to face tonight, now that the sun is down and the sky is dark and you're alone with your thoughts and worries and physical pain. This is the suffering that most often has a choke-hold on each of us, it's the suffering that makes us cry out in anguish that such a thing should come to us, that we don't deserve it, that it isn't fair, that God is mean or a tyrant or not even there.

I know these things too. I've been alone in the dark with my affliction. Plenty of nights. Let me be completely transparent here about my own pain. The very worst position for my nerve-damaged left leg is horizontal. Every single night when I lie down, I have to clench my teeth against the sheer torture of the pain in it. I sleep with 4 pillows cushioning it most of the time and still it's like lying with fire in it. So I put off sleep. And I've done every single one of these things I just wrote.

But I also come back to the truth that He meets me in the fire. That in His faithfulness He afflicted me. Without such affliction I would not have become this me, and would not be used as He intends to use me.

I don't know what your affliction is. I don't know if it's mental, physical, emotional, relational. I do know Psalm 119 also says this, "May your unfailing love be my comfort, according to your promise to your servant. Let your compassion come to me that I might live, for your law is my delight." (76-77)

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