The other day Beyond Blue reader Larry Parker sent me this piece he wrote on why God allows pain and suffering. I wanted to share it with you because many of you knew Larry back when he was very depressed. His happiness today, with his fiancé Ana, whom he met on Beliefnet, inspires me. Good things can and do happen to people working so hard toward sanity. Here’s Larry …
I believe that in pain there is a certain purpose — or, indeed, perhaps the most important purpose.
You can read it in Ecclesiastes, in Job, in the story of Paul’s thorn in 2 Corinthians 12 (or, for that matter, in the entire story of Christ’s Passion). You can read it in C.S. Lewis or his student, Sheldon Vanauken, in their stories of Christian love shattered by early death — what Vanauken called “a severe mercy.”
Bad things happen to good people, as Rabbi Kushner famously said. There’s just no getting around it.
Does this mean there is no God? There is the explanation that God weeps with the suffering — and I think that is necessary, but it’s not sufficient to explain God’s existence to the woman on the rooftop for days after Hurricane Katrina, the boy wailing at the loss of his entire family in the Asian tsunami, the family who have suddenly learned to their joy yet horror that the girl they thought dead is alive, but after 18 years of torture and unspeakable assaults.
I met my fiancee (or more precisely, encountered her on Beliefnet) when I was going through the worst time in my life — which is saying something for someone who was once in a mental hospital during a messy divorce. Yet somehow, today, I think those facts are related.
It’s not just that we have to have the bitter in life to appreciate the sweet, it’s that I don’t think we can have the sweet in life without the bitter. The Byrds took the words straight from Ecclesiastes for their song “Turn! Turn! Turn!”: “To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven.” EVERY purpose.
At the bottom of Pandora’s Box, under all of the world’s evils now run amok, was hope. As Rod Dreher, a Beliefnet writer who comprehensively does not share my politics, said recently, hope is not optimism. Rather, hope is the belief that suffering has some purpose, some meaning that will explained someday, in whatever belief system we embrace.
If that is the case, I am a very hopeful person.
On the night Martin Luther King was assassinated, a crowd of African-Americans gathered in Indianapolis, understandably in a rage. Robert F. Kennedy (himself in the last days of his short life) was in town, and it was thought he might be able to calm the situation with an impromptu speech.
Kennedy quoted from ancient Greek poetry in an attempt to explain the loss to the angry mob:
“Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”
There was no rioting in Indianapolis, that night or anytime during the terrible year of 1968 — the year I was conceived in my parents’ (unlikely at the time) hope of a better world to come. Again, awful grace.
And THAT is why I think God allows pain.