Tonight, we watched a video in Stephen Ministry that left me moved and feeling heavy at the same time. Dr. Diane Langberg spoke a message about the reality of brokenness and suffering in our lives and the need for compassionate Christians to sit with the hurting and minister with presence.
I’ve been thinking about human dignity, suffering, humanity, real-ness… a lot of swirling thoughts in my head. What does it mean that we live in the suffering of the “not-yet” and the reality of the “already”ness of the kingdom? I’m headed to the Philippines in less than three months preparing myself to face the realities of the sex trade and… I sense some fear in myself I’m trying to stuff away. What if I can’t handle the darkness?
Suffering has a contagious quality about it, and that’s why we avoid it. I fear being drawn in to people’s pain. I can easily wear a mask that displays a concern about justice with a capital J, as if I were noble and proud and compassionate. But between you and me, I fear compassion. I fear empathy and much rather prefer self-preservation.
Looking back, a lot of my life has been played in a role, idolizing perfection, a good outward image, wearing a mask, and covering my weaknesses. Personal pain, thank God, smashed a lot of my masks and is helping me recover from my notions of being likable, competent, powerful, attractive.
In Isaiah 61, we hear about God’s promise to redeem the brokenness of the world through Jesus and his eventual coming. The Gospel moves to bring “good news to the poor”, “bind up the brokenhearted”, and provide “beauty for ashes.” But embedded deeper into the passage is a promise of the “day of vengeance of our God”–that makes us squirm a little bit. But the more I think about this, I realize I am happy that our God is just, fierce, vengeful, Good. “Our God is capable to redeem suffering,” Dr. Langberg said. And even more than that, our God himself suffered at the hands of men like me and you.
What do we speak to the unfathomable horrors of a girl who is sold into sex slavery, the despair of a woman who is abused by her husband, the self-hatred of the boy molested by his uncle, the loneliness of the middle-aged man still feeling the rejection of middle-school? We as compassionate humans are called into the strangely attractive, “divine vocation of suffering.” What does that mean? I want to know.