I wrote this post for a class I am taking with Merritt called: The Healing Arts: Illness, Suffering, and The Witness of The Church. Here is the post:
In God, Medicine, and Suffering, Stanley Hauerwas quotes Walter Brueggemann spitting the truth: “The world must be experienced as it really is and not in some pretended way.” (82).
Brueggemann discusses the Church’s often mis-application of the psalms in the midst of suffering. We mistakingly see the psalms as ordering our faith, but Brueggemann suggests that the psalms are expressive of the lamenting disorder that suffering brings. We as humans and Christians prefer order, harmony, and purpose. Brueggemann notes that acknowledging negativity creates a fear that we are acknowledging God’s “loss of control” (81). We want to see a purpose for the suffering, or at least an explanation of why it was caused. But the psalms show that we don’t always get the answers and order we desire, but we do get a chance to enter into conversation with God about how hard it is for us.
A dear friend of mine contacted me last week to pray for a family that she is quite close with (pictured above). The father of the family (John) is in his early 40s and diagnosed out of the blue with stage IV colon cancer. This came as a great shock to him, his family, and their community (including my friend). Everyone has been praying for God to heal John, to make his body new.
Sunday, John went in for his first round of chemo only to find out that the cancer is rapidly progressing and that chemo, at this point, would possibly decrease his health for the remainder of his life. The doctor took a very palliative approach is discussing with John and his family the value of a good quality and the end of life. The family has chosen to receive hospice.
While everyone is still praying for healing, the prayers have shifted more to ask God to bring about some answers – some clarity. And yet, today, John is rapidly dying of cancer and there are no answers to be found.
John and his family still have lots of hope. Hope for healing, but also hope that God will use this for His good. They realize that John’s suffering is not irrelevant. But living in this ‘unknowing’ is a hard place to be. The temptation is to curse God or pray simply for healing. Perhaps these are both demonstrations of faith, but can faith also be expressed in the simple lamenting of this pain and agony? Can John be glorifying to God in his questioning?
I believe so. And I believe that as the Church begins to believe this again, we can find a bit of solace amidst the suffering around us (and in us). We don’t have to have it all together. We don’t have to sing, “Oh, Happy Day.” And with this freedom, perhaps we can boldly and humbly approach the throne of God and say, “Jesus, WTF?”
Gracious God, we ask that John may find comfort, may find a voice to express this journey, and truly dwell in Your presence and communion in what can seem such a lonely state. We ask that the great cloud of witnesses surround John and his loved ones that they may be present, able to listen, and willing to speak forth the laments of our suffering brother. In your great mercy, you are able to remove this cancer, but in your great grace, you mystically work your purpose. May we be able to live in the tension of the unknowing and never cease from approaching your throne with both praises and perturbed petitions alike.