Entries with tag suffering .

Holding on to God in Hard Times

“Why?”

 

Why didn’t God stop all of these hurricanes? Why did my friends lose their jobs? Why can’t I stop this bad habit? Why am I struggling financially?

 

Each of us has our own set of “whys” that we ask ourselves and that maybe we ask God in prayer each day. We want there to be a rhyme and reason to life. We want there to be order and justice. We want our prayers heard and answered.

 

There’s some dissonance when we know we’re prayerful people (or at least people who consistently try to pray) but things don’t go as planned. We lose our jobs, bills pile up, family members pass away, and natural disasters seem only to be more frequent. We need God more than ever, but these problems have a habit of pushing us away from our faith.

 

Here are three things to keep in mind in the midst of hard times.

 

1. God IS with us

 

When things are going well, it isn’t so hard to remember God. It’s when nothing seems to be working out that we wonder where God is in our lives. In the Old Testament, the Prophet Elijah (St. Elias) went in search for God to speak to Him. He found that God wasn’t found in these big shows of the earth’s power (the wind, the earthquake, or fire)...but He was found in a quiet whisper (1 Kings 19:9-13). Later, when God chose to become man, He wasn’t born a king, he was born to a young girl in a cave. Jesus was born and called Immanuel (literally “God with us”) in a way the people weren’t expecting (Matthew 1:23). So maybe God is with us when we least expect it, too.

 

For many of us, it can be really hard to sense God’s presence with us when we’re going through tough times. Sadness and grief can lead us to despair and despondency. Worry can lead to anxiety and fear. And fear just leads us to isolate and get lost in the what-ifs in our thoughts.

 

So how do we see that God is with us? There’s a beautiful Orthodox prayer service called the “Glory to God for all Things Akathist” that helps us to meditate on our many blessings and gratitudes when we might be inclined to see none. God is with us in the love of friends and family. Even after a disaster, God is made known to us in the acts of kindness shown by strangers and in the service given by emergency personnel. God is with us, and we recognize His presence when we learn to see the many signs of His mercy.

 

2. We can’t always explain suffering

 

Since so many of us ask “Why?” when we face suffering, there is no shortage of people giving explanations. Many Protestant pastors have suggested that natural disasters serve as signs of the Second Coming of Christ or serve as punishment for societal sin. Other people, like Kirk Cameron (actor from the 1985-1992 sitcom Growing Pains and the popular Left Behind series about the supposed “Rapture”) suggest that storms like Hurricane Irma are meant for individuals to personally repent.

 

One blogger, commenting on Kirk Cameron’s remarks, wrote:

People who are wounded and grieving and heartbroken need to be cared for and comforted and embraced—they don’t need any armchair theology about why this is a good thing, or how it’s a Divine personal message, or what God might be personally saying to them. It’s one thing for a victim to seek and speculate on such things for themselves, but something else for us to do it for them…

 

Maybe we should admit the mystery, discomfort, and the tension that spirituality yields in painful, terrifying times.

 

Maybe when people are being terrorized by nature or by the inhumanity around them, instead of shouting sermons at them—we should shut up and simply try to be a loving, compassionate presence.

 

This response meant so much to me, personally, because I still feel an instinctive cringe awaiting some religious leader giving their interpretation of the impending doom that natural disasters might represent. It’s part of my own path of healing having been raised in a Rapture-centric community before becoming Orthodox.

 

Sometimes we can look too hard for meaning in situations that simply are. We live in a broken world with pain and suffering and being a Christian doesn’t make us imune to the ways of the world. I can’t give meaning to another’s suffering. I can’t even guarantee I’ll make sense of my own; the only thing I can do with it is offer it up to God in prayer.

 

3. Prayer isn’t a transaction

 

When we encounter difficult times, prayer is either the last thing we think about or it’s the thing we grasp onto. As I watched Hurricane Irma approach Florida, I had to consciously reject the urge to freeze with anxiety about family and friends, and instead turn to prayer. In the moment, prayer was the only thing I could do. But what if my prayers aren’t answered? What if what I ask for (protection for people I love) isn’t what I get?

 

I can approach prayer as a transactional process with God or I can approach it as a transformational encounter with Him as part of our relationship. I’m abusing my relationship with God if I expect something from Him in return for my time and energy in prayer. If I think I’ll get what I want if only I fast properly or say the right words, or ask the right saint to intercede for me, I’m not committing myself and others to God.

 

Instead, I can chose to give my worries and concerns up to God. I can tell Him what is making me scared, and I can ask Him that His will “be done on earth as it is in heaven” as we pray in the Our Father. I pray so that I can make myself aware of being in the presence of God and so that God can soften the hardness of my heart. And then, naturally, God gives me the strength I need to endure the hard times.

 

*****

 

Each year during summer camp, one of my favorite moments was when the campers learned the hymn, “Lord of the powers.” As we repeated the words, the meaning sank deeper and we recognized that the words were really true: “Lord of the powers, be with us for in times of distress we have no other help but You, Lord of the powers, have mercy on us!” There isn’t always an escape from the hard times, but there is always a God present with us in the midst of it all.

 

Do you find yourself trying to find meaning in everyday struggles? How can you offer this to God for today?

 

 

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Sam is the Pastoral Assistant at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He grew up in Powhatan, Virginia and studied International Affairs and Spanish at James Madison University. Sam received his MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2013. He loves food, languages, genealogy, and good coffee.

Photo Credit: depositphotos

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Grappling with Pain and Suffering

Ever since I was little, I’ve had an anxiety about tornadoes and lightning. There’s something about the randomness, the uncontrollability of tornadoes and lightning that has always made me uncomfortable. If only I could guarantee that my home wouldn’t be affected, I could feel secure.

 

If only I could guarantee that I wouldn’t have to deal with pain and loss and suffering, death and illness, I could feel secure. If only I could figure out a way to secure a good life, everything would be okay.

 

And then life happens. And it’s completely out of our control.

 

Friends and family members pass away, natural disasters happen around us, and sometimes it just seems…unjust. So how are we as Orthodox Christians to grapple with the reality of living in a world with pain and suffering? How can we rectify the reality of evil in a world ruled by the God of love?

 

1. The problem with #blessed

 

In a society inundated by the teachings of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, and the “prosperity gospel” teachings of Joel Osteen, we can easily take on an un-Christian understanding of God’s blessings. In the ancient world, people understood that they were not in control. They ascribed blessings to God as a gift for our righteousness, and suffering to God’s punishment for sin.

 

But Jesus turns all of this on its head. In John 9, Jesus said that a man wasn’t born blind as the result of sin, but so that God might be glorified through his being healed. In Matthew 5:45, He reminds us that God “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” And if God rewarded the righteous with riches, why would the rich man need to sell everything in order to follow Christ? (Matthew 19)

 

Every time something good happens in my life, or something bad doesn’t happen to me, I’m tempted to say, “I’m blessed!” I’m blessed because I didn’t lose power or have damage from Hurricane Matthew. But does that mean that the people of Haiti aren’t blessed? Are my friends that are without power somehow not blessed?

 

Scripture shows us that God does not punish the unrighteous with natural disasters, nor does He reward the righteous with health and prosperity. We are not blessed with worldly comforts as a result of our goodness or in comparison to others; we are blessed by God’s grace which is always an undeserved gift and which comes to us in every circumstance if we can accept it. We are blessed by grace even in our suffering, so that His glory might also be made manifest.

 

2. Endurance through suffering

 

The Old Testament book of Job is a long reflection on the mystery of suffering. His friends try to explain away his suffering, but in the end it is Job’s silent, powerless surrender before God that allows God’s blessings to take root in his life. His suffering was not the cause of sin or God’s plan to allow for some sort of future righteousness. Instead, Job’s suffering became the opportunity for him to fully rely on God.

 

Starting with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are given a new lens through which to see pain and redemption. St. Paul writes that he rejoices in his suffering, “knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame” (Romans 5:3-5).

 

St. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:8-11:

 

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

 

Our witness to Christ, especially in the midst of suffering, speaks to our Christian understanding that this life is not the fulfillment of God’s will for us. The good in this life is only a foretaste of the Kingdom, and “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

 

The Christian life is not about escaping suffering; it is about finding strength in Christ regardless of our present circumstances.

 

3. Comforting others

 

Encountering suffering in our world is an opportunity for us to be the Church and to bear one another’s burdens.

 

St. Paul tells us that God “comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” (2 Corinthians 1:4-5). When we receive comfort and grace to bear our cross, it is a gift given to us to share with those who are struggling to bear their own struggles.

 

I’ve always struggled with knowing what to say, or what to do when someone passes away. What are the right words? Will I sound insensitive? But perhaps our best gift is just our silent presence for those who need to be reminded that they are not alone. The gift of our presence may be all that is needed.

 

As God comforts us in times of need, He calls us to share that comfort with those around us.

 

*****

 

The randomness of death can take us completely unawares. My aunt passed away recently after a lifetime of battling for her health. Earlier this month, my uncle passed away after just beating cancer. But they too were blessed; and I’m blessed for having known them. Enduring suffering produces character – it gives us life experience – and it teaches us to hope. And when we receive comfort from God, we share it with those who need our quiet presence – not our explanations – in the midst of their suffering.

 

How do you react to your own pain and suffering? Do you struggle with knowing how to help those who have lost a loved one?  

 

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Sam is the Pastoral Assistant at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He grew up in Powhatan, Virginia and studied International Affairs and Spanish at James Madison University. Sam received his MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2013. He loves food, languages and good coffee.

Photo Credit: depositphotos

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Finding Hope Even in 2016

As many of you probably have, I’ve struggled to keep a good thought in what has proven to be a challenging year. Between the Great and Holy Council, and the US Presidential election, there has been a constant stream of news (both Church and secular) to follow and to worry about.  And even now, the innocent continue to die in the streets both at home and abroad, and politicians continue to bicker.

 

In need of some guidance, I opened up the Bible and found Chapter 8 of Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans. As is often the case, this was exactly what I needed to read. I needed to be reminded that there is always hope in Christ: that there is hope regardless of our present circumstances.

 

So what did I read in the book of Romans that gave me strength? What was it that helped me not to ignore the suffering and injustices of this world, but to find courage instead of despair even in the midst of it all?

 

1. Fear not, God is our Father

 

“For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, father.’” Romans 8:15

 

In our baptism, we were adopted as sons and daughters of God. What Jesus shares with the Father by nature, we get to share by grace as a gift. We have the privilege of calling out “Abba!” (Baba or Papa) to the creator of the universe. God is not some distant impersonal force out there; God the Father is our guide, our protection, and our cause of joy. We may experience fear, but we are not alone. Our Father is holding us close to Himself.  As a father embraces his child during a thunderstorm, giving them faith that they are safe, so too our Heavenly Father embraces us with His protection.

 

So when the temptation comes to worry about what will happen next, remember that we did not receive a spirit of fear. Our fear cannot fix this broken world. But a spirit of peace might be just what people need.

 

2. Suffering will come, but so will glory

 

“The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Romans 8:18

 

Church history shows us that following Christ does not guarantee an easy or physically blessed life. What the Church reminds us though, over and over through the life of the saints, is that suffering in this life does not compare with the glory that will come through unity with Jesus Christ.

 

We may not be able to control the circumstances that come our way or the evils in the world, but if we are united to Jesus Christ, we will have already found the source of joy to endure whatever it is we face. The world will not be able to knock us off of our feet if we are already firmly grounded in Him. With Christ as our anchor, we will be able to endure the pain we feel watching the news, the frustration of an election year, the suffering that we personally encounter.

 

3. We have an active hope

 

“The whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.” Romans 8:22

 

“We eagerly wait for it [the redemption of our body] with perseverance.” Romans 8:23, 25

 

Not only do we await the redemption and resurrection of our bodies (as we confess in the Creed), but all of creation is awaiting this future glorification and renewal with Christ. So what does that mean for our world today? It reminds us that we await something better, that even though the quality of life, technology and medicine have improved over the centuries, sin and death still rule. While we get a foretaste of the kingdom in this life, we still look to a moment when all of this world (with its imperfect people and imperfect politics) will be redeemed.

 

So how can we have this active, persevering sort of hope? Well, have you ever seen a dog wait patiently for a treat? He never takes his eyes off his master and obeys him with eagerness to gain the prize. I should be as eager for God’s grace in my life as a dog is for his treat.

 

4. We are weak, God is strong

 

“The Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” Romans 8:26

 

“If God is for us, who can be against us?” Romans 8:31

 

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation or distress, or persecution or family, or nakedness or peril or sword?...Neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:35, 38-39

 

When I am stuck in worry about the state of the world, when I find myself impassioned over the fate of our country or of Christians in the Middle East, I am acting as if I have the power to solve these problems on my own. I can only despair because I become aware of my own weakness. Instead of turning to God in prayer, I turn to worry. But Saint Paul reminds us that even when we do not know the words to say, the Holy Spirit will help us direct our hearts and minds to Him. God’s power is “made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9) precisely because we can’t get anything done if we rely on our own perceived strength; we can only experience God’s strength if we acknowledge our own limitations.

 

What can separate us from the love of Christ? Absolutely nothing. Except maybe our pride. But when we are weak, God is strong.

 

*****

 

It is good to be upset about and not numb to the injustice, the death, and the pain our world experiences. It is good that we see the imperfections of a world that isn’t rooted in the hope of the Gospel. But instead of turning inwards through despair or turning outwards in anger or resentment, we must turn up to God in prayer first. In prayer, God might even reveal what we can do to be a tool of His grace in this world so much in need of Christ’s presence.

 

Sam is the Director of Youth & Young Adult Ministries at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Wyckoff, New Jersey. He grew up in Powhatan, Virginia and studied International Affairs and Spanish at James Madison University. Sam received his MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2013. He loves food, languages and good coffee.

Photo Credit: depositphotos

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The Problem of Evil

The first class I took in college was called “Philosophy of Religion.”  

 

I was a freshman at the University of Utah, I had no idea what I wanted to study, so when I chose this class my thought process was simple: I like philosophy, I like religion, I’ll probably like this.

 

I don’t remember a lot of details about the course (the professor brought his dog once), but I know it helped shape the way I interact with my Faith today.

 

It was my first glimpse into the problems that I would face as an Orthodox Christian in the real world, dealing with real doubts and struggles.

 

Early in the syllabus we covered the “Problem of Evil.”  The argument is pretty straightforward:

 
  1. God is all good, all knowing, and all powerful.

  2. Such a God would want to prevent evil.

  3. Evil exists.

  4. Therefore God does not exist.  

 

It was the first time in my life I had to really think about the fact that evil exists, and how that impacts my belief in God.  

 

We could talk for days about the problem of evil (maybe one day we will) but right now I’d like to be self-indulgent and talk about what the presentation of that problem meant for me.  

 

It meant I had to seriously start thinking about things I never had to consider before.

 

It meant that I had to face the fact that my relationship with Christ and the Church was changing.  

 

The days of coloring pictures and memorizing Bible facts in Sunday School were over. Now I was going to have to start figuring out how my Faith fits into my daily life.  How (or whether) my Faith would shape my interactions with the world around me.   

 

How (or whether) I was going to actually live Orthodoxy day to day.

 

And what that meant.

 

This realization, that I needed to struggle and wrestle with my Faith and its place in my life, is a huge one. And it’s something we all have to acknowledge sooner or later.

 

How do I respond to the evil and suffering I see in the world?  Is it a proof for God’s non-existence, or a reason to turn to Him with even more humility and trust?  

 

Does the existence of evil say more about us, and our need for repentance, than it does about whether God exists or not?

 

At that point, as a brand new college freshman, I wasn’t sure what this struggle would look like.  I’m not entirely sure now, but I do know that asking those hard questions are an important part of my development as a person and my relationship with God.  Especially because the problems of our society are constantly being beaten over my head.

 

Hi, social media.

 

We as humans like to think of things as either black and white.  We tend to force religion into this binary, too, so we talk about the sacred and the secular, and how the two are completely separate and incompatible.  

 

And how we need to choose one or the other.

 

The more I’ve thought about these questions, the more I reject the premise.  

 

Studying the problem of evil forced me to accept reality; there are bad things happening in the world.  But rather than shake my fist at God and ask “why don’t you fix this,” I came to the conclusion that He has given me everything I need to figure out how to deal with that on my own.  Maybe the most important of these things are:

 

Confession and repentance.  

 

There’s a great story about G.K. Chesteron: a magazine invited authors to respond to a simple question: “What is wrong with the world?”  There were a variety of detailed, eloquent and thoughtful responses.  But Chesterton’s was simple.

 

What is wrong with the world?  Chesterton replied: “I am.”

 

The problem of evil tries to identify what’s wrong with religion by pointing out what’s wrong with the world: the world is full of suffering, which doesn’t fit with our idea of God.  

 

But asking that question completely takes us out of the picture.  I am part of the world, and that means I am part of the problem.

 

As I’ve learned more about Orthodox Christianity, and grown in my faith, I’ve realized that any exploration of the world’s problems has to start with me.

 

And that’s the difference between the simple Faith of my childhood and the mature Faith I’m working towards today.  

 

It’s easy to point a finger a God and blame Him for hunger in the world.  It’s even easier to walk by a hungry person and not pause to help.  

 

It’s easy to point a finger at God and blame Him for violence in the world.  It’s even easier to ignore the anger in my heart, and the cruel words I use.  

 

What good does it do to blame God for the problems we ignore?  For the problems we have created.  

 

For the problems that I am a part of.

 

I can’t pretend to have solved the problem of evil.  It’s still a challenge: faith would be much easier in a world full of sunshine and rainbows.

 

But I also can’t pretend to be a passive observer of the world’s problems.  If all I do is point out the existence of pain and suffering and evil, then I’m part of the problem.  

 

God gave me the mind I’m using to recognize this philosophical problem.  He also gave me eyes to see the faces of suffering, a heart to break for them.

 

And hands to help them.

 

I walked into my philosophy of religion class thinking it was going to be sophisticated and mature.  But now I realize how immature it was to see both God and neighbor as ideas in a proof rather than real and personal beings; to see me as an observer of the world rather than a part of it.

 

Philosophically, I’m not sure I’m any closer to solving the problem of evil.  But I have realized that a mature faith is a lived faith.  That good and evil are much deeper than any logical proof can capture.

 

And that real Orthodoxy is lived Orthodoxy.



 

Charissa is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM.  Charissa grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah and studied political science at the University of Utah.  She enjoys sunshine, the mountains and snowcones.  Charissa currently lives in New York City.

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The Lame Blame Game - Sunday of the Blind Man

I used to be a huge fan of aquatic animal life. Sea World was, quite possibly, my favorite place in the universe. I was especially a fan of Shamu. One night, when I was 5, my mom and I were praying before bedtime (as we did every night), and I uttered a simple prayer: “God, bless Shamu. God, bless Nanu. But God, don’t bless the hammerheads.”

I still think that there is something to this prayer.

My 5-year-old self had already realized that the world is full of scary things. Scary things like hammerhead sharks.

By the way, they still scare me.

As I grew up, my prayers became more grown-up and mature, too (at least, I hope). Now, instead of praying from fear of hammerheads, I’m more motivated by fear of this world.

Though sometimes I still get on planes and promise God that if he gets me safely to my destination, I’ll never sin again.

I admit, this kind of prayerful bargaining isn’t very mature, and misses the point of true prayer. Even so, such prayers do speak to something very true, something we rarely articulate but know all too well, deep in our bones.

Something isn’t right in this world.

And I’m not just talking about hammerheads.

Before I joined the Y2AM Team, I worked as a child and adolescent therapist. Most of the kids that I saw were wards of the State of Arizona, having been removed from their parents due to severe neglect, abuse, or both. Some were on the road to reunification with their families; some were going to be adopted by others. All of them came carrying a great deal of hurt.

And every time they told me their stories, I got mad.

I was mad at this world. I was mad at their parents. And I was even a little mad (if I may admit it) at God.

How, I wondered, could God allow for these children to have such terrible lives?

What did they do to deserve this? And what must have happened in their parents’ lives for them to be so cruel to their children?

I was looking for someone to blame.

Of course, such thinking rarely yields satisfactory answers, and can even lead to great despair. And in my case, it did.

I couldn’t (and still can’t) understand how a good God could allow such awful things to happen to innocent children.

Because I do believe that God is good. But I confess that I struggle to understand why these things happen, or more to the point, why God seemingly doesn’t do anything about them.

Of course, bad things happen to all of us. To some degree we all have felt the pain of living in an imperfect world: through broken hearts from broken relationships due to broken promises which lead us into broken dreams.

Each of us, at some point, has felt the sharp sting of the world’s brokennes. Each of us, at some point, has felt at our heels the monster of death and all that it brings: sickness, loneliness, divorce, job loss, etc.

Every rational instinct in us demands an explanation: Why do these things happen?

Why does God let them happen?

This Sunday, just two weeks before Pentecost and the close of the Paschal season, we will see Christ heal a man born blind, and we will see the Lord’s apostles struggle with all of the questions we’ve been wrestling with.

As Christ is returning from the Temple on the Sabbath, He sees a man who has been blind since birth; Sts. John Chrysostom, Basil the Great, and Irenaeus all taught that this man was actually born without eyes. This man is born without two important organs: incomplete.

When the disciples see Him, they ask the Master, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (Jn. 9:2). Immediately they want to know why this bad thing has happened. They want to know what happened to cause him to deserve this. They are looking for who is to blame.

But Christ doesn’t assign blame. Instead, He answers simply: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him” (Jn. 9:3).

This response is sometimes frustrating for me. This sounds like Christ is saying that God made this man blind so that God could make him see. This just sounds like a cruel thing for God to do, doesn’t it? Why make him blind at all if He was planning to make him see? Couldn’t God have simply shortcut the process and made him with fully functioning eyes?

But then I realize that I’m blaming God, and Christ isn’t interested in blame. Instead of focusing on the cause of this problem, He offers a solution.

Christ heals the man.

But this healing doesn’t occur with a word, as we saw Him do a couple weeks ago with the paralytic. This time, He does something rather peculiar (and honestly, a little gross); He spits in the dirt, makes clay, and rubs it in the man’s eyes (or eye sockets, according to the fathers), telling him to ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (Jn. 9:7).

When the man returns with his sight restored, the people are baffled, hardly able to believe it is the same man who days before was sitting and begging, born without eyes.

Yet it is the same man! He is the same man who just moments ago, had no eyes. No wonder people reacted with such amazement, saying: “Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing” (Jn. 9:31-32).

In this passage, Christ gives no answer for why the man is born blind. Instead, He turns the question on its head by making the work of God manifest in this man. And the work of God, “is making human beings, and specifically human beings in his image, after the stature of Christ himself…the point of this passage is not about the providence of God or his arbitrariness, but rather to remind us that we are clay in the potter’s hands.”[1]

As it was in the beginning when God formed human beings from the dust of the earth and breathed life into them (Gen. 2:7), so now does that same God, Christ Himself, act to fashion eyes from the dust of the earth.

In this way, the man’s blindness can be reframed as neither the result of his parents’ sin nor his own, but rather, the natural consequence of living in a world that is mortal and fallen. God doesn’t cause or even necessarily allow bad things to happen. Rather, He bears them with us, and promises that He is “making all things new” (Rev. 21:5).

That this man is born without eyes is simply further evidence that our world is a world in which not everything is okay. It is a world still in the process of being created. But this Gospel has a word for us. It promises that our God, one day, will complete everything that is incomplete, perfect that which is imperfect, and right every wrong.

The reality of our world is such that bad things happen all the time. They just do. Children are abused. Parents are estranged. Marriages are broken. Jobs are lost. Diseases are contracted. Lives are ended.

Each of us has experienced this in our bones, and we know on a deep level that not everything is okay, that something is missing.

And our impulse is to blame somebody – anybody ­– for why these bad things happen.

But the Gospel blames neither God nor man for this terrible state. Instead, it gives us hope.

Hope is different from optimism. It is a mature realism grounded in the reality of the Gospel, and it presents us with an “altogether different orientation to time…hope seeks a future not by ignoring or denying death (looking on the bright side) but by living through it…Optimism says, ‘Something good will come out of this experience.’ Hope says, ‘In the midst of hell God will act.’…Optimism is positivity; hope is trust.”[2]

More specifically, hope is trust in a Person. Optimism looks to put a “happy spin” on something bad (“At least you don’t have cancer”) while hope is born out of living in the present and looking to God, trusting that Christ will do something (at least eventually) to make it all better.

And He will.

This Gospel is proof of that, although we may not be able to explain how the healing happened.

Each of us is born incomplete. We are born lacking…something. So we raise our voices at God and ask why our lives are the way they are. Why was I born into this family? Why don’t I have more money? Why can’t I find a job? Why do my relationships fail?

Yet the sad thing is, we cannot know why, often because there is no why.

The question of why something has happened can only be answered when a Living Who acts in the midst of our personal hells. Apart from God the world is a mixed-up, meaningless, arbitrary place. It is only our encounter with the Risen Lord that can provide relief. It is for this reason that C.S. Lewis closes Till We Have Faces with the beautiful line, “I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away.”[3]

Because the Lord is with us in our joy, and He is with us in our pain. Perhaps the promise of this Gospel reading doesn’t make the bad things any less painful to bear. But our hope remains, and it is firmly placed in the One who opens the eyes of a man born blind, the One who completes what is incomplete and rescues us from the maddening terror of meaninglessness.

What do you think? Have you ever wondered about why bad things happen? Does it help to have hope that things won’t be this way forever? Comment below and let us hear about your big questions!

 

[1] John Behr, The Cross Stands, While the World Turns: Homilies for the Cycles of the Year (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2014), p. 86.

[2] Andrew Root, The Promise of Despair: The Way of the Cross as the Way of the Church (Nashville: Abington Press, 2010), p. 142-143, emphasis mine.

[3] C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold (Orlando: Harcourt Books, 1956), p. 308. 

Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, mover, shaker, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, and CrossFitter. Christian has his MA from Azusa Pacific University in Marriage and Family Therapy and is working toward a second MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.

Photo Credits:

Hammerhead Shark: tzeca via Compfight cc

Blame: Simone Lovati via Compfight cc

Mud: Rafael Edwards via Compfight cc

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For more:

For more on avoiding blame, check out this episode of Be the Bee:

For more on seeing God's love in everything, check out this episode of Be the Bee:

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