I woke up Sunday morning to the horror of 49 killed, and 49 hospitalized in the massacre in Orlando.
And the crazy thing? I wasn’t shocked. Or even surprised. Mass shootings have become a “new normal” in our country. Heinous, sadistic violence has become commonplace.
For the last few weeks at Bridgetown Church we’ve been wrestling with this question. In philosophy, it goes by the name, “the problem of evil.” Put simply, it’s the following question: how do you square a God who created the universe out of limitless love and power, with the reality of the daily news? Mass shootings? Child abuse? Ethnic cleansing? Planes that fly into skyscrapers? The “collateral damage” of war?
If you want to follow along with our teaching series, listen here.
But we recognize that evil isn’t just a philosophical problem, it’s also a practical one.
Because of the Garden of Eden debacle, we all face pain and suffering at some point in our lives. Nobody is immune. We can minimize and mitigate evil in our lives through diet, exercise, education, wisdom in decision making, organic juice in the morning, and of course, a daily multi-vitamin. But no matter how hard we try, at some point hardship slips through the cracks and our well curated life goes to pieces.
So the question is: how do we suffer well?
In last Sunday’s teaching, I made the point that pain and suffering have the potential to catalyze growth and maturity in our character. Evil can actually be co-opted for good.
But this won’t just happen.
In fact, as a general rule, suffering will make you or break you. Deepen you or destroy you. Refine you or burn you alive. Think of the axiom: “The same sun that melts wax hardens clay.” It’s true. One person goes through the death of a parent or a divorce or cancer or the horror of combat and comes out the other side deeply connected to God, humble, free, at peace, empathetic, and more mature than ever before. Another comes out angry at God, bitter at the world, afraid, lost in depression, and never regains her or his traction in life.
There’s a lot riding on how we suffer.
I ran out of time in Sunday’s teaching to get to the practical stuff, but I felt a few of the ideas were still worth sharing.
So here’s five things to watch out for in times of hardship:
Don’t go it alone.
So often people in pain end up off in a dark corner, reclusive, withdrawn, cut off from family, friends, and community.
This just makes a bad problem worse.
If you feel like you’re the only person in the universe with this issue, you’re not. Others have been here before.
And one of the best things you can do when you’re sick is be around people who are healthy.
It’s incredibly easy to be become self-obsessed in times of hardship.
Think about what happens when you stub your toe really bad – that’s all you can think about.
The same thing happens with non-physical pain. It takes over your heart and mind and, if you’re not careful, consumes you.
Get lost in serving others around you, and watch what happens. Often serving is a backdoor to joy.
3. Guilt and shame
People in pain often feel the crippling burden of guilt. Especially if the suffering is because of a mistake you made – a bad decision, a failure, etc.
You also see this in cases of abuse. When a child is abused or a man or woman is raped, often they feel like they were responsible. Sometimes because of manipulation by the perpetrator. But other times because they will do anything to escape the horrific feeling of being a victim, the feeling of powerlessness.
If that’s you – for whatever reason – guilt and shame have no place in the kingdom of God or the hearts and minds of Jesus’ kingdom family.
Take your pain and suffering to the cross.
Take the sin done by you to the cross.
Take the sin done to you to the cross.
Let it die.
Bury it six feet under the ground.
And walk away, free, and in hope. Because the cross isn’t the end of the story . . .
Anger at God, at yourself, at other people, and “the world!”
Anger is like a lethal poison that quickly spreads through the whole body. I’ve watched people I love deeply go through hardship and become consumed by hate, malice, bitterness, and unforgiveness.
The writer of Hebrews warns against the “root of bitterness” that springs up in the soil of the heart and wreaks havoc.
So when you see that weed, dig it out, fast.
Lastly, but perhaps most important of all . . .
When you’re emotionally tired and weak, you are easy prey for temptation. All your willpower is used up just getting through the day, so you often have little quota left over to fight off sin.
Stuff that you could normally say no to with ease, becomes a siren with an Odysseus’ like sway over you.
That extra glass of wine . . .
That movie that does nothing but create distance between you and the Spirit and fuel your already-too-strong flesh . . .
That website or late night Instagram jaunt . . .
That bent in your personality to be rude, or sarcastic, or critical of those you love and live with . . .
As the Rabbi we follow once said to his disciples, when they were tired and in a rough spot in life, “Watch and pray, so you don’t enter into temptation.”