faith and family
Beauty in the Midst of Tragedy
by Marcus J. Carlson
Suffering is a reality of this life, but a painful and unfortunate one to say the least. I get asked frequently from those inside and outside of the church about the cause and source of suffering. Our simple sayings, cliches and bumper sticker theology about suffering no longer seem to suffice. While Jesus never promised us a life free of suffering (He said the opposite, in fact), when we suffer, Jesus does hurt for us. As a parent it is more difficult watching one of my children in pain and not being able to fix it or take it away. God’s love will always be more profound than my love for my own children, and so I cannot fathom what it must be for God to watch His children suffer.
So where does suffering come from? To be honest, I think it comes from a variety of sources, and it is not always easy to figure out which is the culprit in a given situation. While Godallows suffering, I do not believe God causes suffering. From my own study, understanding and experience, I have found five general sources of suffering.
The first is the reality that we live in a broken, fallen, imperfect and sinful world. It has been this way since Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden and will remain this way until Jesus returns. Suffering is a natural reality in a fallen and broken world.
Second, suffering often is a direct result of sin, our own sin or the sin of someone else. We are more willing to point out when the sin of someone else leads to suffering, but rarely consider that in many instances our suffering is a direct result of our own sin.
Third, suffering sometimes comes not from sin, but simply from our choices or the choices of others. I could not begin to count the number of times I have complained to my wife about something, only to have her point out that it was my choices that created the very thing I am complaining about. So often our children complain about having to deal with difficult things, without recognizing that the source of their difficulty was their own choice. This is the nature of free will and having the freedom to choose.
Fourth, some of our suffering and pain comes from the evil one. We see this in the story of Job — the evil one caused Job tremendous pain and the evil one, whether called Satan or the devil, is still at work in our world today.
Finally, sometimes suffering is just a part of life. Life happens.
While God does not cause our suffering, God walks with us in the midst of our suffering. In our suffering, we are never alone. In fact, it is in the midst of our suffering and pain that God is closest to us. In our suffering, Jesus mourns and hurts with and for us, and in coming to earth and suffering Himself, Jesus understands our suffering. Our God is not a distant God, especially in the midst of pain and suffering. I often remind myself and others in the midst of suffering that we are never alone. This is a key and important message for our children and youth.
So often we try to keep our children and youth from any kind of suffering, and when we cannot prevent it we try to fix it. This is noble and natural, but is not realistic. It is not the right way to help them grow and does not assist in their development. It is not healthy. It also does not prepare them for the reality that suffering is a part of life. It is a tremendous gift and opportunity when our children and youth have the opportunity to learn how to deal with pain and suffering while they are still with us, when we can still walk with them, guide them and protect them from irreparable harm, emotionally or physically.
Jesus never said we would be free of suffering. In fact, Jesus Himself embraced suffering — both to cover our sin and also as a model for us in our own suffering. Jesus consistently warned His disciples, those He taught and those who followed Him, that they would experience suffering. Jesus pointed out that by following Him, His disciples were likely to experience more suffering. In explaining the nature of discipleship in Luke, Jesus urges His disciples to “take up their cross daily and follow.” Suffering is a reality of life and a reality of following Jesus. It is something that Jesus experienced, helps us as we experience it and walks with us in the midst of our suffering.
In fact, God wants to take our suffering and redeem it, to make good of it. One of the most amazing things I get to see and experience as a pastor and follower of Jesus is how Jesus takes pain and suffering and makes good of it. Over and over again, Jesus never fails to take painful situations and circumstances and create powerful, beautiful, meaningful and profound moments in the midst of them. Jesus takes the most terrible outcomes and uses them for good, often drawing people closer to Himself in the midst of suffering. It is a reminder that our God is the God of resurrection and hope.
Recently, I was working with a family I had not previously met that was experiencing one of the worst kinds of suffering I know, the sudden and unexpected loss of a child. The circumstances in this situation added to the pain these parents were experiencing, and in moments like these there are almost no words to adequately share. As I spent time with them, walking with them in their grief, and preparing to lead the services for their son, I had the opportunity to share with them the truth of the Gospel that Jesus is with them in their suffering.
At one point, the father looked at me and asked, “are you saying that Jesus was with my son in this, his worst moment of suffering?” I told him that this was what I believed, and he collapsed on the floor in tears. It is a moment in my life and ministry I will never forget, especially as a father myself.
As we continued our conversations in the days and weeks after this tragic loss, one of the things I encouraged this family to do was to look for the beauty in the midst of this tragedy. I shared that the God of the Scriptures is a God of hope and redemption, a God who takes the most terrible of situations and makes good of them. I tried to point out examples of beauty I saw and heard in the midst of this tragedy.
Several weeks after their son’s passing, we were sitting in their home around their dining room table, talking and sharing some of the stories that came as a result of the tragic loss of their son. As I finished sharing one of the stories, the young man’s father looked at me, thanked me for sharing, and said, “Beauty in tragedy.”
While suffering is a reality of this life, we are not alone in our suffering. We worship a God who redeems all things, making beauty out of tragedy.
For more on this topic, contact Marcus at:firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website at revdrorange.com
Marcus J. Carlson is an ordained pastor (LCMC & NALC), with a Doctor of Ministry focused in fam- ily ministry. He currently serves as Senior Pastor at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, Auburn, IN. He and his wife, Jessica, have two children.