Stories of Suffering

I watched the news this morning for the first time in a long time. I turned on Good Morning America in order to see our pastor, Rob Bell, talk about his new book “Love Wins.” While I was waiting to see that segment, I sat through several stories about the devastation in Japan following last week’s earthquake and Tsunami. Food & gasoline shortages, people being evacuated for fear of a melt-down at a major nuclear power plant, hundreds of people waiting in line at a hospital to view lists with the names of people treated, hoping someone they were still searching for had been there. The images were disturbing.

I remembered a couple of things as I watched. My first reaction: this is why I don’t watch the news, it’s too depressing. In  our media saturated society, I think there are times when it is simply “too much”. And yet I also know that I can quickly create my own little bubble of complacency if I don’t have some informed sense of what is going on in the world beyond me. Then I remembered a message I heard several years ago from Shane Hipps about the effects of media on our culture. I remember him showing images of starving children, natural disasters, etc. and talking about the effect the barrage of these images has on our soul: basically we become overwhelmed with the magnitude of suffering and we are paralyzed, because we can’t see any way to connect personally. What can I, as just one person do with such great suffering? Yet when I am able to connect at the level of one person’s story, my heart is able to feel, to grieve with and for them, to long for restoration.

A few minutes later, GMA actually brought in a reporter who was doing just that: sifting through the massive amounts of footage and finding the pieces for people to connect with. He showed a story of 2 sisters who had just been reunited after searching for each other for several days; another of a man on a bicycle that was covered with taped-on pictures of his missing wife – he was riding everywhere he could, searching for any sign of her. I felt both joy for the sisters and sadness for this solitary man. And I have learned that feeling such emotions is an important indicator for me in how “alive” I am.

The interview with Rob finally came on, and it was good. It was no surprise when the interviewer asked the classic question on suffering,  “How could a loving God allow such suffering as is taking place in Japan right now?” And once again, my heart resonated deeply with the image Rob so clearly painted of a loving God who is not removed and distant, but who grieves when we suffer, who actually sheds tears when we weep.

There is no way to explain or solve all of the suffering around us, and when I can’t explain or solve something I tend to set it aside; it’s too hard. But I was reminded this morning that I am called to join in by hearing the stories of others whose stories are being woven together with mine into God’s amazing masterpiece: a story that offers the ultimate hope for the renewal and restoration of all things.

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2 Responses to Stories of Suffering

  1. Ruth Brinks says:

    Just exactly what I needed to read today. Exactly. Thank you.

  2. Janet – it’s so good to read your ponderings.
    I look forward to more.
    Thanks for sharing.

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