(Part II of II, continued from July 31)
Excerpted from July 31: For Longfellow [and his poem, The Rainy Day], the question was not about a little drizzle, but an entire season of darkness, the bidden sun shines brightly behind the darkness. We are not saved from the darkness, but the darkness tells one chapter of a longer story.
Indeed, we all suffer somehow or somewhere in life, and if not direct suffering for ourselves, love of others causes us to suffer, as we watch those we care about suffer so terribly. Suffering is elemental to the broken world, and we cling to the hope that one day, as Scripture promises, every tear will be wiped clean away …
But the primary question asked on July 31, being both unanswered and unanswerable, is a tad esoteric, Why did Jesus suffer? Was it for our benefit, to satisfy some cosmic need to punish our bad behavior (sin), a concept Paul strained at (substitutionary atonement)? Again, the question is unanswerable. Yet, I do know that suffering – not just Jesus’ – is part of the human condition, and that … joy cometh in the morning.
Viktor Frankl in his little book, Man’s Search for Meaning, tells the story of a young woman he met in a concentration camp. The woman knew she was going to die soon, likely within days. Despite her dark destiny, she explained to Frankl: I am grateful that fate has hit me so hard. … Frankl asked her why she was grateful, so she told him about her former life, before the camps, how flippant (my word) and spoiled (her word) she was, never taking the spiritual side of life seriously. She then turned to the window and pointed to a chestnut tree. This tree here is the only friend I have in my loneliness. The tree with its two spring buds, she explained, had kept her company. Frankl asked her what it would say to her, to which she replied:
I am here – I am here – I am life, eternal life.
It is easy enough – cheap, perhaps – to speak of suffering as the gateway to a deeper life, as though suffering forms part of God’s plan. Suffering is not a necessary ingredient for spiritual growth, and yet, suffering so often opens one to a deeper life, particularly to the person who lean into it. For some, or at some times, suffering is just suffering, leads nowhere. Or, so it seems.
Here is where I think of Jesus, and Isaiah’s message, the one interpreting messianic suffering as being the suffering on behalf of others. Could it be? That our suffering, like messianic, is different than we thought? What if individual suffering carries mystical and universal properties?
We are, aren’t we? Connected at some deeper level, one to another? Consider the entire human race as connected, one massive organism we, and each of us as being a cell of the larger organism? That, as Paul wrote, the suffering of one of us affects all of us? When one suffers, we all suffer. When one of us rejoices, we all rejoice.
What if Jesus though his passion wants us to learn that the suffering of one is indeed the suffering of all? There is so much we do not know about the nature of the community of earth’s people, or about the earth itself.
I understand that Charles Williams, friend and colleague to both C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein, believed that a Christian could experience and alleviate the suffering of another, if only the other could let go of a bit of her suffering – as a type of spiritual love exchange. Say, for example, I have cancer, but you through prayer, love and empathy carry some of my pain so I don’t have to. I don’t know whether this is possible, but I am certain that prayer for others has led most of us to feel the pain of others. Empathetic prayer is powerful, if soul-wrenching.
By sharing in suffering, perhaps we, too, can hear the chestnut tree say, I am here – I am life, eternal life.
Weeping endures for the night, but joy cometh in the morning.