Musings on Suffering, Faith and Action

1. The paradox of suffering

I used to think that if you rolled up the sleeves of your mind and sweated enough synaptic juice, you could figure things out. The way I saw it, philosophical and theological ambiguity was for mental midgets, and I was determined to furrow my brow and stitch together a perfect fabric of understanding for the physical and metaphysical universe. Well, I'm no longer a sophomore, and I've learned to live with unresolved tension.

What killed my naïve hope was the discovery that I held in my paradigm pocket two wholly inconsistent beliefs, and I was unwilling to discard either. In one hand, I clung to the belief, stubbornly, desperately, that God existed and was good and powerful and engaged with creation. In my other hand, I held my own vision, newly opened to the world and freshly aware of injustice without recourse, of trampled virtue and unworthy victors. I was learning histories that weren't taught in high school civics. I was reading the testimonies of the conquered as well as the victorious. I had become convinced of the suffering of innocents.

What does it mean to say that God is good, powerful, aware and engaged when the innocent suffer without just resolution? The co-existence of these ideas jarred the ordered belief system I had framed; and ruined my neat thinking. This was my eternal question, the one upon which everything else hung: "How can this be?" I talked with many who loved God as I, but felt that they were not giving the question its full due, that they too easily pushed off the full weight of the paradox that was crushing me. I began to understand how some could dismiss God as improbable. What does it mean for God and suffering to coexist? How can it be? What does the rape of a child declare about God and his hold on the universe? Pick up a paper, read the tragic headlines of war, suicide, famine and flood, and see why the world has thrown God in the dock and judged Him irrelevant.

Where was God during the Holocaust? Where was God when my mother was dying of cancer and we were laying hands on her beautiful bald head and weeping over her distending body? Do you know where God was when you lay there broken and bleeding inside, crying out to Him in despair as dark and as deep as Hell itself? At some point most of us admit our disappointment with God. It is the rational fallout of our experience with God. He was silent when He should have spoken. He was inert when He should have done something. He was far from me when I needed Him most near.

Some of us are too bold for our own good; there are Jacobs among us who dare to wrestle with the Almighty, and we dare to question, "Why was my prayer summarily ignored? Do you care that your creation is broken? Are you aware of it, or did your subscription run out? Perhaps you are too weak to fix it? Hey! Are you up there? Do you even exist?"

Big questions bleed us of our ability to get on with life. They are like an incessant car alarm under your window at work, a bumpity-bump-bump-bump-bump-bump in the night. Some throw in the towel and drop God's eternal omni-qualities as a viable option in the face of reality. Others wrestle until dawn and live out their lives with a limp - as a reminder of a blessing well earned.

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AARON AUSLAND is a member of the 1999 charter class of Krista Colleagues. He has worked with several Christian international development organizations in Central and South America, including MCC, World Concern, and Agros. His work has focused on building grassroots organizational capacity, microenterprise development, microcredit, and program strategy. He is remarried to a wonderful Bolivian woman and they now live in Cambridge, where Aaron is pursuing a Masters degree in Public Administration in International Development at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.