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Suffering – Age-Old Problem and Present Reality

Suffering is a very old phenomenon incontrovertibly affects everyone. Ever since Eden’s gates closed upon the heels of our former ancestors, Adam and Eve, man has been a sufferer. Fergusson aptly noted that “the reality of suffering, especially that of the helpless or innocent, is a problem for anyone who posits the existence of an omnipotent and benevolent Deity” (Fergusson 1988, 667). In other words, “there is suffering, evil, pain, grief, death and depression in the world. It touches everyone’s life at some point” (Simundson 1980, 13). My paternal grandmother has suffered tremendously, burying four of her seven children in the order in which they were born at the time when they were breadwinners in the family. Child A, B, C and D (names withheld) respectively died at the ages of 27, 25, 30 and 42 years in 1968, 1972, 1980 and 1997.

THE INEVITABILITY OF SUFFERING

The twentieth century has witnessed a volume of human misery and suffering of unprecedented proportions. In the face of this enormity, “philosophers and theologians have continued to grapple with the enigma of evil and suffering” (Atkinson and Field 1995, 824).

It seems understandable when the guilty suffer but it is a mystery when the righteous is not also immune. Paradoxically, “Abraham is tested, Joseph is afflicted, Moses is plagued, David is persecuted, Job is harassed, Elijah is hated, Jeremiah is driven from home, Daniel is thrown to the lions, Stephen is stoned, Paul is imprisoned” (Berner 1973, 75-76). This frankness about suffering does not only belong to the occasional works of the collection of writings that we call the Bible. It is to be found not only in Job, Ecclesiastes, Jeremiah, Lamentations and many of the Psalms but rather informs the whole story. Realistically, “what is from one vantage point the history of Israel’s providential deliverance from evil, oppression and extinction is, from another, the story of Israel’s continuous degradation of suffering” (Hall 1986, 32).

An incontrovertible truth is that “suffering is real, and is the lot of humanity as we know it” (Hall 1986, 75). In January 2002, President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah declared an end to the decade-long civil war that had crippled Sierra Leone. The war, fuelled by a power struggle primarily between the government and rebel forces led by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) over territory, conflict diamonds and politics, brought a decade of attacks on civilians, which resulted in the dislocation of over four million people who were forced either to flee to neighbouring countries or become internally displaced. The sufferings of Sierra Leoneans during the eleven-year rebel war (1991-2002) were unimaginable. In addition to hunger and starvation, arms and limbs were amputated, and babies were stripped off the back of mothers and thrown into burning houses.

The researcher has a friend (a committed Christian) who was raped by seven rebels. As Sierra Leone emerges from the trauma of civil war, its people are now faced with the challenges left by a decade of human rights abuses and the conflicts which plagued the region. During the past decade, Sierra Leone witnessed several egregious violations of human rights, stemming from the war. Among them were child abuse, violence against women, and arbitrary arrest, detention and execution, to name a few. The conflict in neigbouring Liberia used to affect the Sierra Leonean people. As Sierra Leone struggles to recover from this decade of tragedy, one way the citizens are suffering is the lingering effects of the past.

Grace – Glory And The Goodness Of God

One of the greatest gifts of the grace of God is that it enables us to look at our failures, sins, and inadequacies, without fear of rejection or condemnation. The reason many cannot change is that they cannot be corrected without feeling rejected. The ministry of true grace will cause us to delight when we are corrected because of the grace released into our lives. Our heavenly Father knows that we cannot change by self determination or will power. Our hearts are just too wicked. We have too many self centered and selfish ways. We are judgmental of others, while excusing our own un- Christ like actions. Grace is not only for the lost sinner but desperately important to the child of God. Without the Grace of God operating in us, we will never have the power to be transformed into the image of Christ.

True grace has the most catalytic corrective potential of any truth, because it not only gives us the power to change but the desire also. Grace speaks to the nature of God in all of us. When man was made he was made in the image of God. Yet sin has caused that image to be buried so deep it is barely recognizable in some of us and seemingly absolutely invisible in others. True grace ministers a hope and a peace that empowers us to believe that through the love of God that is manifested through grace, we will be given all that is needed to honor and please our heavenly Father, no matter how many times we have failed.

Truly the word failure and grace do not fit into the same sentence. Grace has the power to comfort us in such a way that we understand “there will be no failure” as long as we do not resist the grace of God. Grace refuses to give up on us. Grace tells us, “Get up and try again, for I am with you.” When grace is fully active, we understand the phrase “if God be for us who can be against us,” and the fear of what others say or think is removed, freeing us to be all that God has called us to be.

Satan’s substitutes for the peace, hope, and love that grace ministers through our Lord Jesus Christ are pride, possessions, and position. All of the latter give a man a sense of power over his destiny and situation. Yet as the Bible states, they are all “fig-leaves” that we reach for to cover our nakedness, and at the end of the day they leave us with an unquenchable thirst for just more of the same. What we all need is a revelation of just how deep pride, possessions, and position have mastered and enslaved us.

Mother’s Day Prayer

Our Gracious God

Father, Son, Holy Spirit; our Rock, Fortress, and Salvation; our Lord and King; we bless You this morning as You bless us. You are our everything, Father, our covenant Parent who loves us so unconditionally. We give You praise!

Lord, we want to honour our mothers on this Mother’s Day. We raise our mothers before You and thank You for the love, passion, energy and enthusiasm they have for their children. We bless our mums in the name of Jesus, for their most sacred of ministries – a godly work.

We also want to pray for those who are sad on Mother’s Day; for those who have lost their mothers and miss them terribly even though there may be so many great memories of past. We pray for those mothers who have experienced the grief of loss; who have lost a child; a pain that ever lingers in sorrow like sea billows that roll.

We thank You, Lord, that You hold these children until the day You have appointed when these mothers might finally be reconciled with their little ones. We pray also for the ladies here, Lord Jesus, who cannot have babies, and we pray into their sadness of that ambiguous loss that may never have been – an incomprehensible grief.

We pray You would minister to these people in their sadness, where they are right now, and be the God of peace and comfort to and for each of them on this day. Be with them and inside them by Your Spirit we ask.

We want to acknowledge those also, Lord, whose mothers let them down – where thought of Mother’s Day brings memories of pain and perhaps memories of abuse and/or neglect – mothers who weren’t there for them as their mothers should have been. We also pray into the guilt mothers might carry; guilt that is able to be reconciled at the cross. We pray that Your Spirit would draw these aside and provide the way to forgiveness, healing, restoration, and wholeness. And we thank You that without our mothers we would not be.

We pray for those mothers, and for those children, who are far from each other right now; that You would stir within them love that transcends distance and overcomes the limitations of space and time.

Finally, we pray for our new mothers and those expecting; that You would bless them with every confidence of love and joy, knowing the peace that they have been called by You, to be a mother – the most sacred of human roles.

We lift our mothers before You, Father, that through Your Holy Spirit You would encourage them as they give their sacrifices of love – in their 24/7 devotion to care for and be there for their children – that You would continue to equip them for the tasks of today and the mothering ahead of them, and to empower them to be all they can be for their children and families, and give to them the energy, strength, and confidence they need.