By Randy Blanton
I am often puzzled by those who misuse human suffering as a litmus test to question the reality of God’s love. “If God is love,” some would query, “then why does he permit suffering in the world?” As I have pondered the difficulties encountered in 2016, a more appropriate question appeared to be, “How does God respond to human suffering?”
Ancient Israel encountered its fair share of human sufferings. Some of which were attributable to ill-advised choices that led to a defining moment in their future! The armies of Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem, breached the city wall, pillaged the city, and destroyed the temple. Thousands of survivors were carried off in captivity to the Babylonian capitol of Nineveh.
Although the life they had previously known in Jerusalem had ended, life itself was far from over. The God of their fathers had plans that far exceeded the limitations of and isolation in captivity. But, until those plans materialized, Jeremiah instructed them to grow their families, celebrate the marriages of their children, plant gardens, enjoy the fruits of their labors, and seek the peace and prosperity of Babylon.
Jeremiah’s instructions also included an exhortation for praying to and seeking God, for he listened and would be found. To listen and be found implies presence! Our weeping prophet declared God’s response to the Judean’s suffering was the gift of presence! In their captivity, God was present. When they felt they could not worship, God was present. As I consider the prophet’s instruction in the context of Advent, I am reminded that this season epitomizes the gift of presence. “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ.” God was present in Christ and such restored us to him! Through the gift of God’s presence, may you find purpose in this Advent season!
By Patty Villareal
“I am sure that what we are suffering now cannot compare with the glory that will be shown to us.” (v. 18)
Suffering comes in many forms, relative to the person who is suffering. It may be a physical pain as simple as stubbing your toe on the side of the bed or as painful as a loss of someone close to you. Suffering is a part of life. During this Advent season, suffering may be especially painful. In my social work experience, this season was the hardest for some families. Children in foster care were more in turmoil because they were reminded that they do not live at home. They are reminded that home was not the most ideal picture, as according to the story books or like the home scenes in Norman Rockwell paintings. If they were able to visit home during this season, they were reminded of reasons why they did not live at home. It was difficult for the non-custodial parent to explain to their children why the family was not together. Sometimes, the scene was conflictual. I remember a supervised visit in the San Antonio Buckner offices where a wrestling match ensued between mother and daughter with grandmother working to separate them. Suffering.
However, I was and am reminded that God sent His Son because of the suffering of His creation. He has given us, His most prized creation, the privilege to be His instruments of Hope. “All creation is eagerly waiting for God to show who His children are.” (v. 19) When His children reach out to the invisible person on the street, smile at the unlovable because they see past the outside trappings of a person, or provide without question to the stranger, we bring Hope.
Lord, continue to use us as YOUR shining Light of Hope!
By Garrett Vickrey
Psalm 105:1-11, 37-45
Nobel Prize winning researcher Daniel Kahneman has come up with a theory as to how we experience and remember suffering. He studied the experience of suffering people went through during colonoscopy and kidney stone procedures. From this Kahneman deduced the “Peak-End Rule”. This rule considers the average of the pain experienced at two moments during these procedures— the worst moment and the very end.
The Peak-End rule seems to have a significant relationship to how we understand and remember the suffering we go through. Was it really that bad? How did we get through that? Could we do it again?
Sometimes our memory fails us. We remember only the worst moment of suffering. Or perhaps we focus on the end. When what we need to remember is the whole story.
Psalm 105 retells the whole story of the people of Israel. At least, it retells the defining narrative. Slavery and Exodus. Covenant and Fulfillment. Consider the importance of remember the story…
The Israelites had not even gotten out of Egypt before they began to forget that they were slaves. They already began to forget the pain of the whip marks on their backs. And they began to complain and say that they would be better off in Egypt than out here in the middle of nowhere with Moses.
That was not true. They were not remembering the whole story.
Psalm 105 recounts the story of Israel to help the people of God remember who they are in light of the greater story of redemption of which they are a part. It begins with origins— Abraham. Then the psalm recounts suffering in Egypt before redemption. Then there are the moments of grace along the way— water from a rock in the desert, manna, the pillar of fire that led them by night.
In someways this is a spiritual autobiography. It refuses to let unconnected events or the average of events define identity. And this should be a lesson for us in telling our story— in writing our autobiography of faith.
As we make our way toward the cross this season, this is the time to remember how God has been with you in the past. This is the time to take a look at your life and see the way God has guided you. Look at the narrative arc of your life and find the places that God has been with you along the way— in origins, in suffering, in moments of grace in your wilderness wanderings.
We all understand who are in light of stories. What stories help you understand who you are and who God is? Psalm 105 is a good place to start. Maybe we each need to write our own version this Psalm. That might help us to remember more than the peak and the end, so that we can see the greater story of how our lives intersect the story of God and creation.