Even as you read this column, chances are in China and Burma throngs of people are dying, still dying — and tragically — having been dying for days. They are trapped between rocks. They are starving. Survivors wait mostly in vain.
Here are the newest numbers as of Thursday morning: the Red Cross reports deaths in Burma could rise to 128,000, with 2.5 million affected. In China, 50,000 are estimated to have been buried alive.
On the flip side of every one of those shattered lives, families and friends are broken too. How much they suffer is unknowable; grief doesn’t measure well. Neither does anger, and God knows there’s plenty of justified rage to go around the halls of the so-called government of the Burma junta and of big red China. If they cared more for the individual and less about power, would some people suffer less?
I’ve just written a book of answers, and now, some two hundred pages later, I find myself looking up at Him and over at them, and posing again the same questions I answered for others: Why? Why these innocent ones? Why now? Why is God hiding?
I don’t dare touch the book. It’s there on the shelf, but now is not the time for answers.
After all, if we were there now with the dying, what would we say? Nothing, I hope. We would be. We would show them silent love, like the comforting presence of a mother who kisses a child’s hurt before sending her back to play.
No words. It’s time to suffer with them and for them.
Later, or much later, maybe this will help.
After seeing so many people become better rather than bitter in the midst of incalculable and undeserved pain, my heart has finally caught up to my head. God’s answer to our suffering is not only just; it also works.
No, I don’t mean the partial textbook answer we heard as kids. If I remember well, the teacher said faith meant believing God would fix what’s broken. Then we grew up and lost faith because we found out it wasn’t true. We never saw God bring people back from the dead. We never saw him heal the sick for certain. We knew he didn’t always intervene.
Instead, I’m talking about an existential answer we learn only by living. It is a divine promise in three parts:
1) “In my perfect timing…”
2) “…I will bring out a new and greater good out of every instance of your suffering…”
3) “…if you let me.”
In other words, it is a promise that God will find another route for perfect happiness for us that’s even better than the first…in his time, and if we let him.
“If we let him?”… curious words!
Have you noticed most of our suffering is a result of God letting us, and letting others, make bad decisions? We are the cause of most of our pain.
Well, what if we were to begin making more good decisions? What if we were to jump off the couch and begin to build a better life? What if we were to reach out to those around us and be for them the same face and hands of love we wish we felt ourselves? What if we were to trust in the PROMISE instead of mope, sulk, and remember the past? What if we were to keep our eyes fixed on heaven and our feet firmly planted on earth?
I’ve seen it work. I’ve seen people become better instead of bitter.
We will never find meaning in the IDEA of tragedy, but we can always discover hope in the midst of it.
God bless, Father Jonathan
• E-mail Father Jonathan
• Click over to visit Father Jonathan's Column Archive
Father Jonathan Morris is author of the new book, “The Promise: God’s Purpose and Plan for when Life Hurts”. For information go to www.fatherjonathan.com