What God promises: Comfort to the Suffering

We’re continuing our series on the creeping prosperity gospel. This week, we’re exploring “what God promises,” and today, John Ray has agreed to share. I've watched John and his family wrestle with suffering through the loss of his daughter Olivia. You can read more about her story here. Consider his words and join us in the comments as we work this out.

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." ~Matthew 5:4

It starts around the time school kicks back into gear. As summer days slowly shorten and as fall starts to move in, so does the gathering grief. It comes, like a large rough stone dragged by a chain over a rutted road. Heave. Clunk. Heave. Clunk. Heave...a smothering panic blankets our home; oppressive, suffocating, inescapable.

In many ways the anticipation of the anniversary is worse than the actual day itself. Maybe it is because there seems to be grace for making it through the day we lost our young Olivia, just like there was grace in the weeks and months following her passing. There was revelation. There was comfort that matched the terror. There was peace of a potency that matched the poison. There was news that was truly good, shattering in it’s incarnation, utterly disorienting in its clarity, news that was sufficient to counter even death.

It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t nice, it wasn’t happy, but it was real.

Looking back I see everything that is important in my life has been shaped by suffering. This suffering--whether inflicted through pain and death, insult and loss--is the thing that has opened me to understanding, to experience, to really value the beauty of the Gospel.

And I have found no other way to experience it.

I know I am not the first to grasp this. I know I still really don’t understand it. But I do know we are a society drunk on manipulating promises of peace, joy, health, wealth and comfort in ways that avoid the very thing necessary to truly understand and experience them. Our constant pursuit of comfort through safety and control prevents us from understanding the one necessary element to obtain it. Not only do we avoid suffering, run from it, we also demonize it. We treat suffering as if it is not the evidence of obedience or an opportunity for grace; instead, we treat it as a sure sign of sin, faithlessness, or ignorance. It is the thing to be avoided at all cost. “It which shall not be named”.

We run from being the kind of people who hear the Good News as it is intended to be heard; comfort for those who mourn, satisfaction for those who hunger, reward for those who suffer. Instead we make the Good News into a promise of the Good Life here and now, a way of having Jesus “pimp” out our already overstuffed lives.

I write this knowing there are many who deeply suffer and feel this promise must not apply to them. There are those who fight through every day and the comfort of which I write seems so far away and impossible to find. There are those for whom no amount of assuaging can compensate for the pain, the loss. To you I offer no formula or instruction, only my own witness and presence and the acknowledgement that your pain is real.

And I offer the testimony that as I emptied every ounce of pain and anger and terror into the hands of God, those hands held and hold me still. That is his promise. That his hands will hold you still.

Cover photo by D.Boyarrin, via Creative Commons.