Thursday, September 08, 2011

When Hope Screams . . .

My daughter Hope is precious, at least in my eyes. This utterly biased perspective is probably true of most Fathers. There are times when my whole world stops and zeroes in on her toothy grin, or her cackling laugh. Especially when she’s walking outside (she loves being outside) and turns to look at me with her hand outstretched for me to hold. Or when she scampers over to give me a hug when I walk through the door. Or when she lays her head on my shoulder when she’s exhausted after a long day. When Hope laughs, smiles, or grins, life is good and all the world seems right.

 But, when Hope screams, that whole world seems to come unhinged. Aside from having a spirited disposition, she is also quite capable of emptying her lungs and filling a room with piercing volume. After only a short while of this screeching intensity, she can work herself up to the point where the original cause of the situation becomes superfluous, as the act itself of being upset perpetuates the pain. Suddenly, my words no longer soothe her sobs, and she no longer finds rest in my arms.

I remember one night in particular. Late into the evening, she woke up with a startling, desperate cry. We were visiting relatives, so for several hours, we attempted in vain to calm her trembling body back to sleep. Though she finally lay back down, we were never able to identify the cause of this particularly acute ordeal. Holding a screaming child who will not be pacified is an unnerving affair.

In these sobering moments, I am forced to reckon with the fact that I am not capable of shielding her from the harsh realities of the fallen world into which she was born. I can do nothing to change the fact that the moment she took her first breath, countless others breathed their last.

Suffering is often as difficult to understand as it is to endure. The burden of sorrow and the weight of suffering are interwoven elements of our lives. Thus, grappling with the gravity of pain in a sin-riddled world is not an optional task. Tragedy, loss, and heartache often carry enough force to shake even the strongest theological foundations.

In the pursuit of faithfulness amidst pain, we are not helped by easy answers or superficial articulations of the questions. Though believers have sometimes encouraged one another by diminishing the horror of human pain, the claims of the Gospel are more drastic than that. In Scripture, we hear a voice that speaks to the wounds of worst-case scenarios. Indeed, Christian hope is most needed when life screams.

In attempting to understand the nature of human pain, there are at least three types of suffering that a person might experience. First, someone might experience the just and natural consequences of his or her sin. Second, someone might experience undeserved persecution for faith in Christ. Or, third, someone might experience the effects of living in a fallen world. This last category involves suffering that often seems utterly meaningless. Though they have divergent origins, all three of these categories convey genuine hardship and represent a challenge to the thought process of a believer.

Any Christian response to the problem of pain must be able to account for at least these broad areas. How should we respond to the myriad of situations that involuntarily bring forth from the depths of who we are the wrenching query, “Where now is my hope?” (Job 17:15).

  • Excerpted from the introduction of "When Hope Screams: Learning How to Suffer as Sons from the Book of Hebrews," SWJT 53.2 (Spring 2011): 112-34. You can read whole thing here (pdf). I would love any feedback you might give!

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