Friday, November 18, 2011

What Is the Point?

Yesterday, I posted about being thankful and the Christian's calling to do so at all times.

However, even though it is our calling, it's much easier to say than it is to do.  For instance, in my friend Vimean's post, can you imagine telling her to be thankful as she was crying herself on the floor while her stomach screamed for food?  Sure, you could tell her, "Be thankful that the Khmer Rouge hasn't killed you yet.  Be thankful you have a roof over your head."  These are things to be thankful for, but in the midst of suffering, thankfulness is driven far from your thoughts.

When suffering one's self; when watching a loved one suffer; when thinking of the millions who suffer on this planet on a daily basis, one gets consumed with the situation.  It grows on you.  It tears at your emotional core.  It sucks the life out of you.  It leads you to that point where, like my friend on Facebook, you ask, "What is the point?"

Brian, I wish I could have the ultimate answer to that question.  If I had that answer, I would probably be on the lecture circuit right now asking for more than Al Gore to give out the answers.  Thousands of books have been written on the subject, and despite all these books and the combined IQ's of those who have written them, we still seek the answers.

What is the point to your daughter having the irregular heartbeat, which led to the seizure, which led to her heart attack?

What is the point of her lying in PICU for a month?

What is the point of her losing her cognitive portion of her brain?

What is the point of her undergoing surgery to aid her stiffness only to contract meningitis and have the pump removed?

What is the point of hearing that her brain has shrunk and the only activity seems to be in the stem?

What is the point of one step forward and then several steps backward?

I wish the answer was clear.  I wish I could give it to you and ease all of your and Keili's questions.  I wish I could resolve the matter for you so that you could ultimately be at peace without worries about what might or might not happen in your future.

But I cannot.  My sight is far too limited, and that is one of the problems we face as human beings.  Our perspective is far too limited.

St. Paul wrote about this in the great love chapter of the Bible, 1 Corinthians 13.  He says in verse 12, "12For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known."

We can't see the fullness of the answers.  So what is the point?  Notice Paul says we see in a mirror dimly.  We can't see clearly, but as Christians, we know something is there.  But the question is, "What?"

We begin to get the answer in Jesus.  For if there was a  person on this planet who least deserved suffering, it was Him.  He did all the right things.  He loved God perfectly.  He committed every good deed imaginable.  He taught the Truth.  And despite all those things, He was betrayed, arrested, tortured, beaten, unjustly condemned, and crucified (you could call that murder, if you like).  Yes, He died for our sins, but did He have to die in such a fashion?  Did He have to suffer? 

In a word, yes.  He had to suffer to show that He was not above our experiences.  He had to suffer to show that God understands our plight.  God understands what it means to lose a child.  God understands what it means to watch a child undergo tremendous pain at the hands of others.  God knows what it means to watch His Child undergo every parent's nightmare.  God is not above our experiences.  He knows them fully.

But this isn't quite getting us to see what's in that mirror yet.  For if God suffers with us, that can be small consolation.  The end result is much more satisfying.  For Jesus' story doesn't end with the crucifixion.  It ends with resurrection.  The final word in the story is a very, very good one.  The final word is new life.  Death does not have the last word.  Evil does not have the last word.  Suffering does not have the last word.  God does.  Every time.  That's the Truth.

But what is God's last word in the case of Macie? 

I don't know.  I can't ultimately see what it is.  None of us can.  But if we trust God, we know it will be there.  Even if the worst should come to pass, God will make things right in His time. 

If this is the case for us, what does that mean?  How are we supposed to respond?  Again, I turn to St. Paul this time the 5th Chapter of the Book of Romans verses 1-5:

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

Suffering builds our endurance, which builds our character, which leads us to hope, and I believe that our calling is to hang on, stubbornly, tenaciously, with reckless abandon to that hope. 

This doesn't mean we don't cry out, "What's the point?!"  This doesn't mean we don't get angry.  This doesn't mean we don't kick a wall or two.  This doesn't mean we don't shed tears or get upset.  We need to do such things as we deal with our emotions and our frustrations.  You can't keep such things pent up inside.

But, we do these things knowing there is something in that mirror.  There is something that beckons us.  And that something is good.  Without that something, there is no point.


Melanie L. said...

This was a wonderful response to Brian's post... I know the family and all of us that are praying with them are truly touched by it. Thank you...

Kathy said...

oops! I noticed I made a mistake in my comment -- I should have said "participation" instead of "forgiveness" -- of course, only God forgives sins!

While I agree with Melanie that you made a "wonderful response," I think it is important to point out a central doctrine of Christianity: Redemptive Suffering.

I am saddened that this doctrine is rarely mentioned by priests or pastors. It is the teaching that Christ suffered and died for us, and now, as part of the Body of Christ, we can join our suffering to His, and with Him, participate in the work of Redemption. This gives tremendous meaning to our lives and suffering.

St Teresa of Avila said: "Vivir es padecer." "To live is to suffer." In Christ our sufferings are given meaning and purpose.

Kevin Haug said...


This is one of those places where Lutheran and Catholic doctrine differ substantially. We believe there is only One whose suffering leads to redemption: Jesus'.

And while we boast in our sufferings for our faith--for receiving any persecutions we may or may not receive--those sufferings are not redemptive. We are saved by grace through faith alone, not through our suffering.

There is a good reason pastors, including this one, don't talk about redemptive suffering any more than we don't talk about Purgatory and praying for the souls of the deceased. While possibly offering comfort to some and easing their consciences, they are ineffectual.

Kathy said...

Thanks for responding! It gives me a chance to clarify and expand. I have a potpourri of comments that I was not able to post last week because I was just too busy. Things really got hectic and I didn't have any time for my favorite subjects: religion and theology.

I did leave a long comment on "Spirit of a Liberal" Blog, but it was not posted -- I guess the owner of the blog is not as "liberal" (meaning open-minded, inclusive)as you... and since my comment disagreed with his views on gay ordination, it looks like he trashed it.

Redemptive Suffering. Like so many things, this simply needs expansion and clarification. St Paul says: "in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflicitons for the sake of his Body, the Church." My daily prayer is that I join my sufferings with the sufferings of Jesus as "penance, reparation and expiation" for my sins and, along with His suffering, for the sins of the World. I pray for myself and the saints (meaning those who are saved) here and in Purgatory.

Again, as I tried to say before, this has to do with TIME. All souls in Purgatory HAVE BEEN JUDGED and are SAVED. There is simply an on-going process of purification that takes place in another time frame.

Do you think Henry VIII went directly into Heaven like the good thief? I seriously doubt it.

Kathy said...

...continued... (I ran out of space)

The CCC has an excellent -- but short -- explanation, with references, of Purgatory -- #1030-1032. My personal favorite Scripture is Matthew 5:26 -- "You will never get out until you have paid the last penny." (BTW -- just try to find this verse using Strong's -- they really cover it up! Wonder why!)

Now for a few other things... You often use the abbreviation "RC." Now, I am not touchy or easily offended, and I am sure you intend no disrespect, but this term is offensive. When I was growing up in Illinois, I would hear people saying things like: "Well, the RCs were stealing bikes again last night."

Blacks call themselves "Blacks" or "African Americans." Out of respect, we call them what they themselves want to be called. Catholics are "Catholics." This is what we call ourselves. It is from the Creed. The Catechism is called Catechism of the Catholic Church not "Roman Church." So, please don't use "RC" anymore, or the term "Roman Church." They are offensive.

Excommunication. You often say Luther was "kicked out" of the CC. He was NOT kicked out; he was excommunicated. This simply means he could not receive Communion until he repented. He was welcome at Mass. About half (I would estimate) of the people in my parish are excommunicated because they are divorced and re-married or they are living with "partners." Do they care? Nope.

Hope this clears up a few things! Happy Thanksgiving! (or as we say down here: "Feliz Dia de San Giben!"