Toothache

I have a toothache, a constant reminder of the suffering that is always looming and ever present in this world. It is easy to ignore such suffering when we are pain free. We turn away, do not believe it, protect ourselves from it. Those of us in good times do not want to risk ourselves by contemplating the bad things that surround us. It is like we will tempt fate and somehow bring ill fortune on ourselves. Too much thought of such things or association with those who are not so lucky reminds us that it is all so tenuous. We don’t really control any of it, our life, although we might collect money and power to give us the illusion that we do, and to provide a small amount of influence over our destiny. With such influence, we can pick which doctor we see or which hospital we visit. But we can’t control the things that really matter, the disease that ravages us or the fire that burns. Money and power can even artificially shield us from our own demise. We are haunted by it and can do nothing to avoid it. But with enough money and power, we can pretend that we are better than others, that we do not share their fate, that we do not risk their toothaches.

Where is God in the midst of so much suffering? In good times, it is easy to believe in a God who answers prayers and somehow protects us from the horrors all around. But those in bad times know that our most fervert prayers seem to fall on deaf ears. Maybe no one is listening. Maybe no one was ever there. But how then to explain other answered prayers, and that sense of connection or knowing that many of us have felt in the presence of the Divine. Does God abandon us in our times of greatest need? Did we imagine the rest? Is our faith not enough? Or is God just capricious and cruel? None of the above satisfies me, so I must be missing something. My understanding of God is apparently much too small. I have developed my faith in a land of plenty, cosseted from much of the suffering that plagues humanity. It cannot withstand the real world.

Ironically, I only started believing in God when I stopped blaming Him/Her/God. I did not come to faith at all until I realized that God was not the source of suffering but the solution to it. I spent my early years being so angry or so hopeless that I was blind to the overwhelming love and goodness of God. But evil triumphs when we blame God and turn away from God’s light, for only God is the source of that light. This I now understand. But apparently I fell into the trap of imagining that I also understood God. And I don’t. So my faith crumbles with every heartbreak. The book of Job grapples with the problem of evil and concludes that God’s presence is the only answer. We are human and so unable to truly understand. Indeed, we know God in the limits of our imagination and yet the wonders of the universe show us that God cannot fit there. In good times, our confined view of God as an all powerful being who cares about each of us individually and faithfully answers our prayers is enough. It works. But in challenging times, we are left to wonder who and what God really is. And if we are pious, we quake at our own audacity. How dare we! Where is our faith?

For now, in the midst of my struggle to understand, I hold on to the truths that still make sense. I believe in God, the Maker of heaven and earth, the Source of all light and life. I believe that God is love and goodness. I take comfort in Jesus who suffered as we suffer and died as we will die, yet rose from the grave to call to us again. Like the end of John, where some of the disciples are fruitlessly fishing and a stranger, the resurrected Jesus, calls to them, the story does not end with each of us desperately trying to get on with our lives in the shadow of life’s tragedies. Rather, Jesus beckons to each of us to join him on safe shores. Somehow, his presence really is enough and we can find comfort in this broken God , the God of broken things. It does not satisfy our minds. We still wonder how to make sense of it all. But it can satisfy our soul. And we can continue to try and figure things out in the presence of a God who loved us enough to become one of us, even enough to suffer on a cross because of us. At times, we are all like those disciples, on the sea of despair, trying to carry on. And Jesus is there for us too, beckoning for us to rest in him, and perhaps even to find comfort in his understanding because ours is not enough.

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