because suffering is hard to understand…

imageThe story of Lazarus frustrates me. I know Jesus eventually raises him from the dead, but the fact that he lets him die and stay in the grave while others weep and mourn – it’s difficult for me to understand. I’ve heard several explanations and interpretations. They make sense, kind of. But there is a piece of me that still feels disappointed. If Jesus could have spared them all the pain (and He could have) why didn’t He?

And I ask it not just for Lazarus and Mary, but for myself, and for others who are hurting. For those who feel dead inside…the hearts that feel trapped behind the doors of the tomb…and those who watch them writhe in pain and desperately wish they could make it stop…but they can’t.

I know the easy churchified answer, but that doesn’t always satisfy. When we see and hear about things that are just wrong and seem unnecessary, we need something deeper. Because if there is not a reason for Him choosing to allow suffering, than how can we say He is good?

Purpose from the pain. Beauty from the ashes. Good from the bad. All of those things. I get it. I really do. But the answer still falls short, at least for me, of explaining the allowableness of the pain experience itself.

And in my searching last night as I laid in my bed trying to come to some new level of understanding, this crossed my mind…

All of it means nothing – the purpose, the beauty, the good – if we refuse to accept the message of the cross.

Because the message of the cross is dirty. It’s scary, nasty and frankly – gives me nightmares. Every time I watch a reenactment on TV or a movie, I can’t hardly stand it. It makes me want to vomit. And even though I know how the story ends – and it ends well – the pain of the cross is tremendously real.

And so if Jesus suffered in such a way, if God allowed Him to suffer a fate that I can’t even stomach, then what makes me or you or anyone else immune to pain?

The answer is nothing.

Because the cross is painful. It is pain and hurt and abandonment and being shoved into the darkness by hateful humans spitting in our face. It is the Son of God, forsaken. It is blood spilled and flesh torn – it’s real life.

Jesus did not avoid pain. And He didn’t go around with big red bows trying to quickly tie up Lazarus’ or Mary’s pain either. He’s not a card carrying fairy princess godmother. He was flesh that suffered and died, not so we could avoid hurting, but so we wouldn’t be alone and abandoned in the process.

He was there when Lazarus died. He was there while Mary wept alone. He is there when children get raped. He is there when a sweet girl puts a blade to her wrist. He is there when the addict shoots up or swallows another handful of pills. He is there when life brings the unspeakable and makes absolutely no sense what-so-ever. And it pains Him, it desperately pains Him, but He isn’t our glorified gigantic handyman. The message of the cross is knowing there will be pain, but because of His suffering, we do not have to suffer alone. That pain is uncomfortable – but with His presence we will be okay. He brings freedom not always from hurting – but from being unsheltered, deserted, and left with insufficient power to heal.

And so yes, beauty from ashes, and purpose from pain, but maybe more importantly the deep deep connection of the one who fills our lungs when the air sucks out of the room and we can’t even breath. In it all, He remains.







  1. Jess says

    This is hard. And has been on my mind a lot lately. As the first anniversary of my dad’s passing approaches after these holidays, the memories surface and consume me once again, the grief hits when I least expect it sometimes…like at a holiday party when I have to leave the room just to catch my breath…when I just can’t do it, I can’t participate and act like i’m happy and things are good. Things are not good. There’s no way I could prepare for this. It’s been a very hard year for me to trust, to believe, to see the good. I struggle with this. And it’s definitely overwhelming me right now as the loneliness and questions return. My dad had cancer for 4 years…he was fighting…he was even in remission for a short time. But it kept coming back. Then less than a week after i gave birth to my first baby, he suffered a stroke. He was in the hospital for awhile, then went in a nursing home as he was gaining back strength, then he caught pneumonia, he went back to the hospital and they couldn’t do any more for him. The antibiotics weren’t working. For 2 days they pumped him full of morphine to make him comfortable until he passed. All the while I had to take care of my newborn baby…she was only 6 weeks when he passed. I have struggled with seeing the purpose from his pain those last days. I have written about this over and over again. I’ve talked about it until i’m sure people are tired of listening to me. I’m tired of me. My husband and I are struggling. He’s been unemployed this whole time. We’re living at his parent’s house. When will I be able to feel the loving arms of Jesus wrap around me to comfort me? When will I feel like I have my life back again? The way it used to be. When we had our own place to call our own…I know I’m being ungrateful for what I do have…today’s just another hard day for me, lost in the darkness.

    • stephanieclayton says

      Sweet girl. You are in a difficult time. And Christmas is a huge trigger for sure. Enjoy the times you can the best you can. Get moving even when you don’t feel like it. And please consider seeing someone at your church or in the community to help you walk through this difficult time. Or talking to your doctor about how you are feeling. Hormones are so crazy after childbirth and there may be something your doctor can do to help you start to feel better. Big hugs sweet friend!!!!!

      • Jess says

        thank you. I am seeing a counselor at church. I am also in a dbt group that is supposed to meet every other week (it was canceled this week)….particularly why yesterday was hard. going from having plans to no plans. I look forward to group. I am planning to start grief share next week. The last few days have just been really rough for me…as much as I’ve heard holidays can be triggers, I think I was still unprepared for the emotions when it hit…and then I read your post. I am having such a hard time understanding and trusting God through all of this. I have been for months.

  2. says

    Suffering is universal, a tension, as we think of peace on earth. The greatest peace in the pain is that He remains….never will He abandon His children. Thanks for sharing your thoughts…you expressed a truth that is a comfort.

    • stephanieclayton says

      Thank you sweet Cathy. You always have such wonderful and gifted perspective on life. I value your friendship and wisdom so much. Hugs!!!!!!

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