Suffering, generosity and hope

Thinking Anew

Today an ecumenical service organised by the Irish Kidney Association is to take place in Corpus Christi Church in Drumcondra in Dublin. It is held each year "to honour and remember the special people who have donated their organs so that others may live".

It is attended by many who have benefitted from organ transplants and whose lives have been transformed after years of ill health.

It is also attended by donor families who in the midst of their grieving for someone they cherished found it possible to think of the needs of others. But at such a terrible time in their lives they must have asked questions: why me; why us; why someone so special to us?

One of the suggested readings for tomorrow is the story of Job which not only addresses the problem of suffering but more specifically the question of innocent suffering.

READ MORE

Job is described as a man who was “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil”. This is important because there was a simplistic view in Old Testament times that if you lived a good life all would be well, an expectation perhaps that we might identify with.

Because of this much of the Book of Job insists that he must have done something wrong to suffer so terribly. We could explain this today by accepting that since no one is perfect we are all bound to suffer but deep inside us there is a lingering feeling that sometimes people perceived to be good have more than a fair share of suffering and loss. This applies in a very special way to children.

The why of suffering is largely a religious question because those who believe in God, especially a God of love, are left with difficult questions; why does God allow suffering and why do good people suffer? There is no easy answer, as George Appleton, one time Anglican archbishop of Perth and later bishop in Jerusalem, explains in his book Journey for a Soul: "Sooner or later suffering, misfortune, trouble comes to every life. Some of it comes from our own ignorance, some from our own mistakes, some is a consequence of our own sin. But in almost every life there is a residue which seems inexplicable. Our Christian faith does not completely explain the mystery of suffering. It teaches us how to deal with suffering. It assures us that God does not will suffering, but he is in it, to redeem it and to turn it into good and blessing. Let us not forget that the perfect life (of Jesus) was not exempt from suffering."

There is a sense in which Christianity is a protest movement against suffering taking the cross, an instrument of pain and torture as its identifying mark.

It is also a movement of hope and promise believing that on the cross Jesus Christ not only confronted suffering but redefined it.

George Appleton again: “When trouble hits us we can react in a variety of ways. We can let it knock us out, so that we lose all hope and stamina. We can rebel and refuse to accept the rightness or merit of it. We can fill our lives with feverish activity so that we have no time to think about it. Or we can accept it – without defeat, rebellion or evasion – trusting that God will make clear tomorrow what is so difficult to understand today.”

Walt Whitman makes a similar point in his Early Poems and the Fiction: "Oh how good a thing it is that the great God who has placed us in this world – where amid so much that is beautiful, there still exists vast bestowal among men of grief, disappointment and agony – has planted in our bosoms the great sheet anchor, Hope."

Today’s service is not only an act of remembrance; it is also a celebration of hope, a hope won for us in Jesus Christ and given meaning in the generosity of those who in the darkest of hours gave hope to others.