Towards a hopeful suffering...


Paul writes... one of the hardest problems I face is reconciling my faith to the experiences of my life or vice versa.

I'll often say in response to a question about my experience of God, "nope, that's not the God I know..." By which I am saying that is not a God who I've experienced or want to experience. It is a flippant way of dealing with a God who is being portrayed as a miserable lemon sucking, guilty making miser. Or a God who is out for lunch, doesn't care, leave your name and number after the tone and he'll get back to you later... much later. Or indeed a God who is a happy go lucky glowing cheeked santa claus/generous grandfather dispensing pats on heads, freebies and Worthers Orginals at will.

In truth though my experience of God is shaped by my subjective shifting experience of God in my life. I am grateful for counterpoints such as the bible and other people's experience of God to challenge my creation of God in the image of my own life - and it is some challenge!

The moments where my faith stutters the most like a scratched CD are those moments where life does not match my God expectations. My faith does not fit my life. Nor does my life fit my faith. It is those moments of congruence where I feel the furthest from God. Ironically as I flounder and flail in my faith, at the end of myself, God is, I'm sure, the most closet to me.

A few years ago I struggled with an expectation of faith which was a straight line to glory. That saints were saved and did not need to question or have doubts. That suffering in life could be swept under the rug as a smiling face and a gleeful I'm fine was a joyful vindication of eternal salvation. It was all mountain top or bust. No problem could not be overcome by praying harder, believing harder, reading the bible harder. The faith of fevered fervent furrowed brows. When life of course did not improve, when actually struggles, pains and problems increased the choice was simple - celebrate the stuckness and recalibrate faith or ignore the problem/person and hope they went away.

So I was delighted to find Christians who took the former way. Who were prepared to admit to being works in progress. Who could share pain and problems. Here was a most hopeful way forward, denial wouldn't work, patterns of pain avoidance were thrown into the light - Jesus, in his crucifixion and his call to pick up our crosses and follow him through the cross, became the ultimate example and inspiration.

Of course a few years on and being a fickle shallow sort of soul I am now pining for those glory days again. At least back then I had some kind of foolish hope whereas now I am living in a grey grinding reality stripped of denial. I feel like Neo awakening out of the Matrix into the reality of the world. Or those cucumbers craving Israelites wandering around in the wilderness, wishing for the hope of liberation rather than the gritty numbing reality of it.

Have I lurched from one extreme to another, I wonder? Have I embraced the pain of the cross without the glory of the ascension? Am I guilty of trading in my wishful life after death happily heavenly ever after for a life on earth full of cynical soil bound faith?

Am I alone in this dilemma or have others found ways to embrace the glory and the pain, the hope and the darkness into your faith?

Is it about character - the Spirit growing patience in our impatience? Is it about calendar - celebrating the triumphs as well as the pains of the christian calendar and connecting them into our faith? Does it penetrate further into our conversations, our sermons, our songs?

What are your experiences and suggestions? How do we move towards a hopeful suffering?