“Everything will be alright in the end and if it’s not all right it’s not the end”
– Patel… or John Lennon.
This is not a post about pessimism.
This is a post about reality.
Usually when it comes time for me to write my blog post, I am wrestling with ideas and topics, carving out arguments, chomping at the bit to get writing.
Today is different. None of my “theological questions” feel that important. Rather, I’ve been pondering the idea of “the happy ending”.
How often has someone told you that things will work out?
“Don’t worry, everything will be okay in the end. These things sort themselves out.”
To be honest, that is easy to say when one is a reasonably well off middle class individual.
And in many cases, in those circles, it is true that things will “work out”.
But tell that to the people in South Sudan, the people in the Gaza Strip. Tell that to starving children, or the people dying alone in hospital.
“It will be okay!”
Actually, for many of them, it won’t.
It’s a bitter pill to swallow, because saying things will be okay is how we make reality easier to deal with.
I believe in prayer, and I believe in the power of prayer to affect some sort of change in the world. How? I have no clue but I have experienced it in my own life and know God hears our prayers. Usually He surprises me with the way He answers them though.
But when it comes to praying for a situation like the one in Israel and Palestine, where do you start?
This is one of the biggest arguments against the existence of God. How could an all loving God allow such suffering to happen on earth?
I discussed this recently with a friend and we concluded that there is no way to answer this question. The “text book” answers are embarrassingly bad attempts at explaining the existence of pain and death in the world.
Genesis recounts The Fall of Man and to me that was the early Jewish people trying to explain what they observed in the world. They were trying to answer that very same question. Why is there suffering? The conclusion? Because “man”.
You see, free will is an interesting thing. If you stopped a baby from trying to walk out of fear that she would fall down and hurt herself, how would the baby learn to walk? Genesis seems to be saying that God gave us free will to choose right or wrong because if He made us only capable of choosing “right”, then it is no longer “right”. We are just preprogrammed robots and our “choosing good” means nothing. The same applies to love. The Church would argue that God gave us free will so that we may freely choose to love Him. God will not force us to love him or choose Him.
He loves us so much that He refuses to impose Himself on us but rather tries to get our attention through gentle whispers.
So, we have free will to choose wrong. And we readily do.
I can remember sitting in my matchbox-sized room thinking, what if I don’t get better? (Typical OCD thinking) I remember begging God to help me but at the same time asking myself, why should He? What if He has given up on me? What if I am destined to be another statistic? A mental case, locked up for life. A tragic story of a young life gone too soon.
Because that happens and what can we say in those situations. “It will be alright”?… Please. It’s usually best to not say anything in such cases.
But before I send you into a spiral of despair and existential meltdown, I’d like to challenge you and myself to think of how to do something about the suffering around us and two, (bare with me here if you aren’t Catholic… or Christian) find a picture of a crucifix. Here I’ll help:
And think about the fact that Christians (we, us, I) believe that the man hanging on that cross is God (well, not literally the little figurine on the cross, but you know what I mean).
GOD, the Being that spoke the Universe into existence, dead on a cross, after being beaten and tortured. “Everything will be alright in the end. And if it’s not alright it’s not the end.”
Flip, I guess His disciples were like, “This dude said He was God. Now He’s dead. Peace out!”
We all know the rest of the story though.
So the point is, suffering. Everyone suffers. People die of cancer, children get bombed in Gaza, people die in their own faeces in hospitals here in South Africa. Where is God?
On that cross.
Before you roll your eyes, let me try elaborate. The way I see it is that if Jesus took on humanity’s sin and suffering (as we believe) then that includes all suffering, from the beginning of time to the end of time. (That’s a lot of suffering)
Why did He do this? Because our freewill remained so important to Him that rather than click His fingers and solve all the problems, He stepped into the ring and showed us how to suffer and showed us that we are not alone.
So in taking all of humanity’s sufferings on Himself that means that all suffering finds its meaning in the cross. That child dying of starvation, his death is not meaningless. He is innocent and his death is unjust and not the will of God but in his dying he is “making up for what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ” Colossians 1:24. The Church has a specific and complex teaching on this which I believe and extend to the idea that a dying child’s sufferings join with Christ’s sufferings on the cross and so, in a mysterious way, bring about the salvation of mankind. That little child, in union with Christ, saves me. And all I can do in response is fall before God and weep in sorrow and in joy in the knowledge that His love for me is too vast to fathom and that He gathers all the little children to Himself. And we are all His little children, stumbling along on this earthly pilgrimage.
So I can’t explain why there is suffering, but I can say that I believe that God can take our suffering and transform it, even when it seems utterly and completely hopeless.
Even when it is the end and it is not alright, God will always have the last word. Not suffering and not death.
“Set your troubled hearts at rest. Trust in God always; trust also in me. There are many dwelling places in my Father’s house; if it were not so I should not have told you; for I am going to prepare a place for you.”
Speaking to his disciples soon before his crucifixion.