Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Pain As A Way of Knowing

I’ve been locked in a “cell” of sorts for a while, unable to write anything more than a few ideas down (actually this is laughable, I’ve started about 20-30 different posts, but am unable to finish them).

I suspect I’ve needed to stay hidden awhile, for the work of God in me to deepen. I feel like there may be some creative “water” starting to leak from under the surface, so hopefully I’ll write more regularly soon, Lord willing. In the meantime, I found this selection from Richard Rohr’s daily devotional, Radical Grace, particularly beautiful and haunting:

Suffering is the necessary deep feeling of the human situation. If we don’t feel pain, suffering, human failure and weakness, we stand antiseptically apart from it, and remain numb and small. We can’t fully understand such things by thinking about them. The superficiality of much of our world is that it tries to buy its way out of such necessary knowing.

Jesus did not numb himself or withhold himself from human pain, as we see even in his refusal of the numbing wine on the cross (Matthew 27:34). Some forms of suffering are necessary so that we can more fully know the human dilemma, so that we can even name our shadow self and confront it. Maybe evil itself has to be felt to understand its monstrosity, and to empathize with its victims.

Brothers and sisters, the irony is not that God should feel so fiercely; it’s that his creatures feel so feebly. If there is nothing in your life to cry about, if there is nothing in your life to yell about, you must be out of touch. We must all feel and know the immense pain of this global humanity. Then we are no longer isolated, but a true member of the universal Body of Christ. Then we know God not from the outside but from the inside! (p.209, day 218)

We’ve all known people (and been people) who stood “antiseptically” apart from suffering. People inevitably avoid what they don’t understand, and suffering is all about mystery and confusion and the loss of control. Antiseptic spirituality by definition doesn’t get its hands dirty, and prefers staying “numb and small.” For many people (most? all?) the feeling of loss of control can be maddening to the extreme.

What strikes me is not that we keep this “antiseptic distance” toward others (though we do), but to ourselves. I have been struck recently how much I still “despise” aspects of my life - painful, shameful aspects – when it is in those very places that Jesus calls me to himself. He puts on my sores and my stink and calls me to come fellowship with him. When I refuse, I consign myself to a parched wasteland of life lived without-God (Jer 17:5ff). I also lose touch with myself, preferring the paltry selves of my own making, the “scholar,” the “good Dad,” the “faithful employee,” etc. But these selves are not real, so God will have nothing to do with them. He waits for me to acknowledge my “actual self” which is broken and messed up, sinful, manipulative and dearly loved, forgiven and accepted. If I can embrace this self that is me, then I shall be on the road to receiving grace, for it is only to actual selves that God gives grace.

Gently, and patiently, God calls to us in all our pain and trials to know him and know ourselves in relationship with him. This is the only true life, eternal life (John 17:3). Thus, pain becomes a “way of knowing” the most important things in life: God, grace, what it means to be human, etc.

Hear what Job has to say about this at the end of his trials with God:

2 No one can oppose you,
because you have the power
to do what you want.
3 You asked why I talk so much
when I know so little.
I have talked about things
that are far beyond
my understanding.
4 You told me to listen
and answer your questions.
5 I heard about you from others;
now I have seen you
with my own eyes.
6 That’s why I hate myself
and sit here in dust and ashes
to show my sorrow.
(Job 42:2-6 CEV)


Sheila said...

Wow....I don't know how I found your blog, but I have it marked on my list of blogs to check now and then. I'm glad I checked it tonight and found this. Thank you for sharing these ideas. I will be sharing them with others.

Sheila said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Scott said...

Sheila, welcome! So glad you have found this helpful. May the Lord richly bless you!

Sheila said...

Oops. Obviously I didn't see that the first comment did in fact "take."

Scott said...

I wondered about that - I'll delete your second comment.