It’s been a deepening conviction of mine that a genuine personal exposure to suffering would cure much that ails us in religionland. And beyond.
Of course it’s no slam dunk.
Suffering is wasted on some of us.
Suffering just makes some of us mean and meaner.
But when we’re crushed repeatedly by life, we tend to be not nearly so arrogant and prickly. We tend to shut up more, to listen better, to focus more clearly on what matters most. Whenever I encounter someone young or old that leads with their mouths, I endeavor not to judge them. I do. I just figure, “Abba, they just need to suffer a bit more than they have…”
It’s perhaps the greatest deficiency in our Bible school and seminary curriculums. We have courses in homiletics, hermeneutics, church history, theology 101, 201, 301, but how do you teach a course on suffering? Sure we can talk about it, we can even go overseas or across the street to visit it, to see it. But we can still be self-righteous jerks as we step back into our own domain of comfort and familiarity, looking down our priggish noses at those around us who don’t care as much because they haven’t seen what we’ve seen and because they didn’t cross the street or the sea with us.
It’s when we’re the ones laid up, we’re the ones confined, restricted, and bound; when we’re the ones feeling the anguished cry of “My God why have you FORSAKEN me!” emerging from the bowels of our being that we learn something. That we learn to be quiet. That we learn the unforced rhythms of grace. That we learn to respect any and every human being before us. That we learn to be kind to everyone you meet because everyone you meet is facing a battle.
I’m told it was his personal experience of being a prisoner of war that did the deep interior work, the inner plowing of the soul in St. Francis that prepared him to literally strip off the power structures of this world and to practically and effectively spend his life becoming an instrument of God’s peace, even traveling to the dreaded Saracens seeking peace when the rest of Christendom was crusading off to war. And significantly, in the last two years of his life, St. Francis was the first documented case of one who physically and literally bore the wounds of Christ in his body.
Just what might suffering cure in us – if only we not squander the suffering moment?
Just what might it heal in our world?
What diverse cultural and social worlds might be brought together through we who suffer?