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Agonized Uncertainty

I find interesting and, often, good news in a variety of places.  I am a regular reader of newspapers and magazines.  Recently, I ran across an intriguing editorial in one of this nation’s premier newspapers.  The article was entitled, “After Great Pain, Where is God?”  You can probably see why I was immediately drawn to read this short piece.  It was authored by Peter Wehner, Senior Fellow at Ethics and Public Policy Center.
   
I was not aware of Wehner, but guessed that this Center was some kind of Washington think tank.  Indeed, it is.  The website basically tells me it is a conservative religiously and politically think tank devoted as the website says to “applying Judeo-Christian moral tradition to critical issues of public policy.”  This fit the tone and direction of Wehner’s thought, which I very much appreciated.  It gave me some nice ways to think about classical problems and I share this here.
   
The title I chose for this inspirational reflection steals a couple words from one of Wehner’s sentences buried deep in the essay.  Wehner’s reflection focuses on the suffering that is present in our world.  Specifically, he shares a number of vignettes about friends who are suffering.  Of course, as a person of faith, that causes him to wonder about God and Jesus, whom he follows as a disciple.  His thoughts were very helpful to me.
   
Wehner asks what are we to think and to say when we or our loved ones face suffering.  Of course he recognizes that Jesus, too, faced his own moment of suffering.  I like Wehner’s response.  “Jesus’ question, like ours, was not answered in the moment.  Even he was forced to confront doubt.”  I appreciate this stance.  I also think Jesus must have harbored doubts---momentarily dubious about God’s presence in that whole adventure to and through the suffering and cross. 
   
But as Wehner points out, doubt is not the same thing as loss of faith.  He says this of Jesus: “But his agonized uncertainty was not evidence of faithlessness; it was a sign of his humanity.”  There are the two words of my title: agonized uncertainty.  Suffering clearly is agony.  No sane person wants to suffer.  Jesus was sane.  But he also was thrown into the uncertainty of those last days leading up to Jerusalem. 
   
I like how Wehner develops the theme.  He says, “Like Job, we have to admit to the limitations of human knowledge when it comes to making sense of suffering.”  He continues noting soberly, “So, too, is any assurance that the causes of our suffering, the thorns in our flesh, will be removed.  So what, then, does Christianity have to offer in the midst of hardships and heartache?”  I take no solace in the fact that suffering may not be removed.  This is hard to bear.
   
Wehner asks the poignant question: so what does Christianity have to offer?  He answers his own question in a way that I love.  Part of the answer anyway is community.  Enjoy this sentence from Wehner as much as I appreciate it.  “The answer, I think, is consolation, including the consolation that comes from being part of a Christian community — people who walk alongside us as we journey through grief, offering not pieties but tenderness and grace, encouragement and empathy, and when necessary, practical help.”
   
That is a great sentence.  Community is consolation.  Consolation is not eradication of suffering.  But if we have to suffer, at least let that be done in a spiritual community.  I value how he details the nature of this gift of community.  The first thing Wehner notes is community provides people who walk alongside of us.  We have companions in our journey of grief.  This is the definition of compassion---people willing to “suffer with.” 
   
Notice how Wehner describes the gifts of compassionate ministry.  These fellow pilgrims offer tenderness and grace.  I appreciate how he contrasts these two gifts with pieties.  Pieties are an answer to suffering, but it is a lousy answer!  Tenderness is a real gift.  You can feel it and it makes a difference.  It does not eradicate suffering, but it does make it possible to sustain life through the suffering process.  And the same goes with grace. 
   
Fellow pilgrims also offer encouragement and empathy.  With these gifts we know we are not alone in the suffering we endure.  And that’s not all.  Wehner counsels fellow pilgrims to give practical help where possible.  This is very welcome.  Certainly nurses and other aides offer this kind of practical help.  But we can be given the practical help of our community members, which means a great deal.  This can make all the difference.  
   
Wehner finishes his thoughts in a way I welcome.  He acknowledges his faith.  He says, “For those of the Christian faith, God is a God of wounds, where the road to redemption passes directly through suffering… And from suffering, compassion can emerge, meaning to suffer with another — that disposition, in turn, often leads to acts of mercy.”  In these words, Wehner has identified the polarities of faith: suffering and mercy.  One begs for the other.  Where there is suffering, may there be mercy.  God says yes and God’s disciples embody the mercy.
   
Wehner has the last word.  He admits, “I have seen enough of life to know that grief will leave its mark. But I have also seen enough of life to know that so, too, will love.”

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