the impossibility of thinking suffering through

by Eric Daryl Meyer

The problem of intense and irrational suffering in a world that Christians proclaim as the object of God’s love is a problem that can never be thought through, only thought around. It is a dark mystery which stands as a stumbling block, a choking pain, a stunning blow, to faith, to love, to hope. Yet it never need be a fatal fall.The Christian answer can never be one that has fully thought through the problem of suffering because no human answer survives the complexity of suffering and death, all of them fall to the side. Job’s questions are only answered with a jarringly profound statement of God’s presence. His suffering is not answered, but accompanied in a way that elicits wonder and worship. For Job, that is enough.The Christian answer can never be one that has fully thought through the problem of suffering any more than one can think oneself through the cross of Christ. At the point of God’s death among us, all human answers simply fail. Here is God’s confrontation with suffering and death at the center of the world (which is to say both nowhere and everywhere). We cannot think through this event because it is either our own death or or our own doing. Either way, the cross is the terminus of human thought about suffering.We think around this subject, and we must. We must think and speak of God in a world where suffering overcomes lives everyday. We must think and speak of God’s love in the midst of this world, even at its most hellish, because that is the only answer we’ve been given. We must not stop thinking on account of that which stops all thought short. God’s suffering love in the midst of the suffering world. The good news that is the church’s necessary proclamation does not, in itself, overcome the suffering of the world, but it must always be proclaimed around that suffering.We think around this problem because we are drawn to it. The gravity of human suffering, whether that of brothers and sisters in the world or that of God among us commands our attention. No one who can simply ignore suffering is without fault—we feel that imperative like gravity.We think around this problem not in order to solve it, but in order to help those who exist in its throes—which is to say all of us at some point. We think around this problem in order to think practically, politically, and personally about addressing its symptoms and proximal causes. In order to address the problem most effectively, we are forced to think around it, because almost without fail, attempt to eradicate suffering and death altogether (to really think ourselves through it) finally creates more suffering and death through the attempt to implement the solution.The world’s pain and death threaten to numb faith and cast it aside. Faith is not capable of traveling (in thought or otherwise) through pain and death on its own power, but it is capable of seeing the other side, and of trusting around it. Precisely in that trust, precisely in being around God’s suffering in the world, is the promise that grace might pull us through it.That promise is the Word, spoken through death, Jesus Christ.