Out of our pain

God only allows pain if He’s allowing something new to be born.

From Ann Voskamp, How to live through the hard weeks

Every year I bring the painful question of evil and suffering and a good God into my classroom, using Youtube videos, card sorts and various bedraggled worksheets from the old grey filing cabinet where I hide this stuff away.

Three times a week in class we ask ourselves the question: If there is a God who loves and cares for us, why does he allow so much suffering in this world? Seated round the lightly graffitied desks amongst the pencil cases and plastic wallets we work our way through several hundred PowerPoint slides, newspaper collages of natural and man made disasters, bullet points, paired work and class discussions. We make posters, model in play dough, debate and consider: 9/11, the holocaust, war, poverty, sickness, cancer and death. In our own words and borrowed words we map out the territory, a glossary of grand sounding names, quotes and key words: omnipotent, omniscient and benevolent. And everyone memorises the classic theodicies.

At the end of the term nearly all my pupils will score one hundred percent in six mark exam question that asks them to explain suffering, or ten mark questions that asks them to weigh up an idea and state their own view. Everyone will get a GCSE qualification but how many will really know the answer to the question: If there is a God who loves and cares for us why does he allow so much suffering in this world? These children who have maybe seen more every day pain in one 14 year life span than the rest of us will see in 100 years.

Amongst the conflicting views the only thing we seem to agree on is this; there is no water tight, one-size-fits-all answer and to try and provide one is an insult to those who suffer and grieve.  Yet I remain an avid collector of wise words and quotes, a life longer seeker after hope, even when it has been hope against all hope.  So when Ann Voskamp comes out bright as the day to tell us God allowed the pain and that from it something good will come, I sit up and listen. This farm girl writer, mother of 6, advocate for the poor and spinner of words, who watched her baby sister crushed under the wheels of a truck and her own mother turned half crazy by the death, who took pieces of her own pain and beat it into hope and wrote it out for us to read, she said this,

God only allows pain if He’s allowing something new to be born.

So could we ever believe this: that out of pain, God births something good?

Who amongst us would dare to say this to a friend in the midst of their pain? When all the world shouts in upper case anger, WHERE IS YOUR GOD NOW?  Who amongst us would interupt and say: watch carefully now and in time you will see a new thing being born here, hope out of despair and healing in brokenness, thanksgiving from abandonment and bounty from loss. Who amongst us has the discernment and the timing, the compassion and the integrity to speak in even a hushed voice such daring words?

There comes a point in childbirth some eight tiring hours into labour, a little after your waters breaks and wave after wave of gut wrenching contractions roll in short minutes apart, and you can hardly pull yourself up before next one pushes you down again. Here you fight in the undertow of a great tide, pulled under into the weight of its roll, until you can not breath and fighting for air you think you might drown. There comes a point when you think you’ve taken as much as you can endure, your cervix thinned and stretched, your uterus prepares to release a beautifully formed child.  Some 9 cm dilated, when all your emotion rush to the surface and with the next contraction you defy any person to touch you, speak to you or approach.   You could curse the midwife telling the world the child is about to be born because from the point of view of pain there is never an end in sight.  Who would dare suggest that this woman’s pain is not real, immense and unavoidable? There is no turning back, no rest, no relief. But at the moment when she cries out all the louder, the wise know the baby is about to be born and in a few short pushes he will leave his confinement and rush into the freedom of the world.  Vernix covered and fists clenched he will come, a cry against the sharpness of his first breath, raging against the strangeness of the light.

And no new mother ever said it wasn’t worth it and very few said they would not do it all again and they’re smiling at the baby and thanking the person that stood with them those long hours: midwife, husband, partner, mother, sister, friend.

Out of our pain, something new is born.

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6 thoughts on “Out of our pain

  1. I believe the real question is why as Christians WE allow pain and suffering we are complacent and comfortable even in comfort zoned of pain. Jesus is God and wherever he went He dealt with pain in all its forms and He said that if you saw Him You saw the Father.

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