Some time ago a friend of mine said that she didn’t see how anyone could reconcile a belief in a loving creator-god on days when everything piles up: the conjunction of a bad head cold, the start of a period, past injuries flaring up. Surely God, too, would end up in tears at the top of a flight of stairs, if we are made in His image.
I didn’t reply at the time; what I had to say were not words of consolation. When my arthritis is flaring up and I have a migraine and a sinus infection, and I still have to go about life doing things like making meals and eating them, going into town to work, all the while in pain, I have also taken a swipe at God. On days like today, when I can’t walk enough to make it into church or when my hands hurt too much to do my Lenten devotion, there isn’t much stopping me from cheekily saying, “You know, it’s not my fault I hurt.”
What I would have said is, “Our pain is the result of a fallen world. The universe is broken, and we are broken, too.” If I were more evangelistic, I would then go on to say that we hope for the renewal of all things in eternity. I have written here before about that future hope. But that’s just it: it’s in the future. Not only a new body, but a new name, a new reality; eternity is the impossible future, beyond whatever human understanding I have now. It doesn’t remove the pain right now, doesn’t alleviate it, doesn’t explain anything.
I remember how the story of Job was always the answer to suffering for no apparent reason. Unknown to Job, he was the field of contest between God and Satan. Job had the gall to demand explanation from God Himself, and God did not explain. His answer was, essentially, “Am I not God?” Job’s possessions and health were then restored—in this life, not the next. His suffering was temporary; what then for us who suffer chronically? It is not a comforting book.
Like the man born blind the apostles accused of being punished for his or his parents’ sin, my body is not broken because of anything I did. Perhaps I can be self-absorbed enough to say that my arthritis is an opportunity for God’s glory. It certainly can be, but I hold no delusions that I will be healed instantly—though I would sing and dance if that were to happen. Instead, the glory comes day by day. It is easy to turn to anger and despair; it is much harder to grin and bear it and confide in an invisible being that you don’t necessarily approve of how He’s doing things. I am a symptom of a broken world, and I am broken too. God is God, and I am not. Hollow words sometimes, even to my ears, but no less True.