For all of us, suffering is one of the deepest and most perplexing mysteries of life. Whether it is enduring illness, pain or loss ourselves, or watching someone dear to us suffer, we struggle to find meaning and reason in it. During this month Christians all over the world will be thinking of the sufferings of Jesus, following the last days of His life up to His betrayal, arrest, trial and crucifixion, and many people will find courage and strength in seeing their own sufferings reflected in the Passion of Jesus.
What Jesus shows us is God's passionate involvement in our suffering. He comes to share our pains and sorrows, and bears them with us. When we have to watch someone we love suffering, we often say "I wish I could take that pain on myself" - and in Jesus that is exactly what God does for us. That wonderful vision of the Old Testament prophet "Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows" has actually come true in the sufferings of Jesus. That is the measure of God's love for the world and for us.
In our frustration and confusion we often ask "what have I done to deserve this?" But suffering does not work like that, and God certainly does not operate in that way. Some of our suffering is self-inflicted; some is the result of human stupidity and wickedness; much is just the accident of nature and circumstance. That is the way the world is, and many people have suggested that if there were no possibility of suffering we could never know the wonders of love and joy. But none of it is directly inflicted by God - indeed, Jesus shows us that God's purpose for us is healing and vitality.
In the same way, our anguished question "why does God allow it?" leads us nowhere. God does not will our suffering; God certainly does not cause it. But God cannot arbitrarily interrupt the moral order of His universe to spare us pain; instead, in Jesus God enters into all that pains and diminishes us, and works to bring something good out of it. Remember that the story of Jesus's Passion leads on to Easter, which proclaims God's purpose of bringing good out of evil. We see that demonstrated so movingly in Jesus's prayer for the forgiveness of his executioners - a window on to the redemptive power of all his sufferings.
Not long ago, I chanced upon a comment by a modern writer, herself handicapped and suffering from brittle bone disease, who was the mother of a daughter born with a serious genetic disorder which led to a life of much pain and disability until her death at the age of twenty-two. Out of all her heartache and outrage, the mother wrote that the only definition of "Almighty" that meant anything to her was "that there is no evil out of which good cannot be brought". There can be no finer statement of Christian conviction than that.
As we share again the darkness and the pain and the horror of Jesus's own sufferings for us, my prayer is that all who are passing through times of trial and pain and anguish may know the presence of the Saviour who shares their sufferings, and through that may come to know the triumph of Easter, the great affirmation that pain does not have the final word, and God's redeeming love can still bring us hope and joy and pleasure even in the darkest and most difficult times. A happy and glorious Easter to you all!
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About the Vicar's Letter
The Vicar's Letter has been appearing in the villages Focus magazine since August 2002.
The Rev. Peter Graham also used to publish The Vicar's Letter in the parish magazine of 1964. Please see the Vicar's Letter area for these.