Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Suffering - Part One - An Introduction of Sorts

I feel like I need to have a disclaimer at the beginning of each post on this topic.  I am not a doctor, I am not a "trained" theologian, I am not the wife of a priest/pastor, nor am I a professional journalist/writer.  I am a regular lay person.  As for educational credentials, I have a B.S. in Marketing from Penn State University. 

I started this blog because most Orthodox Christian blogs are written by those aforementioned people.  I'm just the lady standing in the pew on Sunday trying to focus on God but usually focusing on my mischievous 5 year old son who likes to poke his sisters in the butt while they are trying to focus on God.  Each Sunday is an adventure for sure.

For those of you not familiar with an Orthodox Christian worship service, it goes for about an hour and half and we are standing most of the time.  We love God in our Church and find worshipping Him to be a delight and not a forced obligation, hence the long service.  We stand because we believe that we are in the presence of God and do so out of respect.  What happens when the President of the United States enters a room?  Everyone stands up.  It's about respect.  Once you lose respect, it's all over with. 

Can you tell that I'm procrastinating? I should get an honorary degree in procrastination, I'm that good. It's just that suffering is such a deep and complex issue that I am terrified that I will end up making light of something very serious.  So, here I go.

I know suffering.  And if you are a human being with a heart and are completely honest with yourself, you know suffering too.  Some people suffer more acutely than others.  Some are born with debilitating diseases, some are born into truly destructive family situations, and some just acquire their sufferings measure by measure until the accumulation of those sufferings is so tremendous, so unbearable that it is physically and emotionally crippling. 

People want to know why they suffer.  They demand answers.  They are tormented in the still of the night when their thoughts won't leave them alone. Unanswered questions arise such as:

Why do I have this disease? 
Why did I lose my job and the bozo without a clue who sat next to me got to stay AND got a promotion?
Why did my mother/father neglect or abandon me?
Why is my child suffering?
Why did I grow up in a home with alcoholics?
Why did someone who told me they loved me ultimately betray me?
Why am I alone?
Why am I still reaping the negative effects of a bad decision I made 21 years ago?
Why did God, if He's so damn good, let this happen to me?

These can be soul crushing and painful questions.  Many people glibly respond by saying, "Your sufferings are God's perfect will, so just smile and carry on like nothing is wrong!"  Or this too: "You are being punished you filthy sinner that's why!"  I believe some of these people must be the same ones who worship the Big Bully Deity mentioned in an earlier post.  Whoever they are, those are not answers that a suffering person wants to hear.  It's mostly untrue, and completely insensitive.

So, what is at least the beginning of wisdom to answer these questions? Well, what I finally came to realize is that it actually does have to with God's will but not like I mentioned above. It also has to do with my free will, the neighbor's free will and the free will of the careless woman in her car with the name of her church plastered across the back who still does not know the pick up and drop off rules at school.

It is the Orthodox Christian teaching that God is Love. Jonah says it quite beautifully here  in the Old Testament, and the beloved disciple John says it here in his first epistle in the New Testament. God gives us the free will to love Him, love His Creation and love each other. There has to be free will in a true loving relationship, we are not robots.  God can't force us to do anything, nor does he want us to feel forced. He respects our free will and will not interfere (unless you allow for His interference of course). **addendum** Perhaps interference is a poor choice of words.  God is always with us, whether we ask Him to be or not.  He sees, He knows, He watches, He waits.  He allows us to make choices and allows us to make mistakes. 

Sadly, not everyone chooses this path of love and that's when crappy things happen. And since we live in this world with those who choose not to love me or you or the environment, we innocently bear the consequences of that decision by others.  "Other people" are not always to blame though.  We must take responsibility for our own actions, however our level of culpability  does vary greatly from person to person.

Again I really want you to hear this from a "professional" and I recommend the CD lectures by Fr. Tom Hopko that I mentioned in the prior posts.  He also has many lectures for free on Ancient Faith Radio.  His podcast is called "Speaking The Truth In Love".  They don't disappoint.  The direct link to his series of talks is found on AFR here.  

That's all I can muster for today friends.  I'm taking a few days off away from blogging. It has drained me a bit, plus my kids are on break and I need to spend time with them.  I'll be back next week for sure with more.  I don't know what exactly, only that I know that there is more.


Pinpoint said...

"Why did God, if He's so damn good, let this happen to me?" Good question! And where is the Guardian Angel when our children are suffering?
You said: "God respects our free will and will not interfere (unless you allow for His interference of course)". How do we allow Him to interfere? Most of the time we pray God but nothing happens. We still suffer. We ask Him to interfere but He doesn't. Why?

Desert Dweller said...

Hi Pinpoint,

As just a simple lay person I will answer your question as best as I can. And I will answer it as the Orthodox Christian that I am.

We ask Him to interfere by asking for His help through prayer. By honestly humbling ourselves enough to say, I don't understand what is going on, I don't understand why this is happening, but I have the faith of a mustard seed and hope, that in the end, because I believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the blessed eternal life to come, this will all make sense.

That's probably a lame answer, but what I work off of in my own life. Sometimes in seemingly desolate times I have cried out, please just throw me a bone Lord! He does. Maybe it wasn't the bone I was looking for, but a bone none the less.

Also, Jesus was quite clear that if we were to be His followers, then we were to pick up our crosses too and follow the path to Golgotha that He followed. Jesus never promised us a rose garden, just a cross. (Matt 16:23-25; Mark 8:33-35)

The only other thing I have to offer is this. I have personally found the Orthodox Christian Church to be one of healing, one of salvation. Read my little blurb on the top of the blog about salvation. The term "salvation" has been hijacked and whittled down to a marketing catch phrase at this point in American society.
What you may think salvation is and what the Ancient Christian Orthodox Church has been proclaiming since 33 AD may be two entirely different things.

That's actually the direction that the blog will be taking next week.
Salvation. Healing. How do we proceed through this life.

I don't know your belief system, but speaking with a spiritually mature priest, pastor or rabbi is a really good idea too. I'm just a woman with a computer.

Sorry I couldn't be more useful.


Anonymous said...

God is good all the time, and he is worthy to be praised in the good and bad in life. He never promised life would be easy, just that he would never leave us or forsake us. (Deut. 31:6) He always listens to us, but doesn't mean he has to answer our prayers. In 1John 5:14-15 it is written, " This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to HIS will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have what asked of him". I have found that sometimes God's answers are "no" or "not at this time, maybe down the road".
I write these things, as a believer in Jesus Christ. I am a child of the Most High God, who has Jesus as her Lord and Savior in my heart. I believe the Holy Spirit which is in me intercedes to God for me. I can only speak of my experiences, and learn from God's holy and perfect word, the bible. Thanks, Amy :-)

Pinpoint said...

@ Trina
:) No, you are not just a woman with a computer.
I am eastern orthodox, just like Fr. Tom. Actually he belongs to the Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Greek-Catholic Church. How can be this church Russian and Greek, catholic and orthodox in the same time?
Thank you for your thoughts.

Desert Dweller said...

I originally left a long explanation of your question, posted it and then deleted it because I realized that my explanation could easily be misunderstood.

Might I suggest this? There are several good books out there about the history of the Orthodox Church. There is a Q & A section at the OCA website that may be able to answer some of your questions as well.

Hope that helps.