The African Forum on Religion and Government (AFReG) calls on all Christians to increase our prayers as a faith community dialoguing on “African Identity, Dignity and Justice in the 21st Century.” This Tuesday, August 25, 2020, our theme is “Pain and Suffering.”
Readings: Job Chapters 1-2, Psalms 138:7-8, and Romans 8:35-38.
“When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.” Job 2:11-13
When we look at the world today, one filled with social unrest, injustice and far too often the indifference to the conditions so many of our fellow human beings are experiencing, we can’t help but come face to face with the reality of suffering. The family of George Floyd certainly did, as did countless others who have lost loved ones to senseless violence or been the recipients of some form of social injustice which has caused pain and suffering, not only to individuals, but communities and cultures as well. Our common humanity recoils at the pervasive reality of the pain around us; the suffering others are experiencing; and the perplexing and uncomfortable frustration or helplessness we feel when confronted with so implacable a foe. “Why is it so?” “What should I do?” “Is that my future as well?”
We could, as the theologians of old have done, devote our time to exploring the Christian doctrine of “theodicy” …why a good and loving God allows bad things to happen. We could journey alongside Job’s friends Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar and offer our rational, theological, experiential and existential explanations to pain and suffering. But no doubt, we would likely hear our world pass judgement upon our insufficient explanations as did Job to his friends when he declared, “Miserable counselors are you all!” (Job 16:2). We are all called to much more and much better…but if so, then what? When we are each confronted with the reality of the pain and suffering we find in this fallen world, we can and should find comfort as Scripture points us to a safe harbor of God’s understanding, counsel and the comfort He offers.
- Find your “lament.” In the Bible, a lament is a personal expression of grief or mourning when we encounter people who are grieving. We are not called to have all the answers; have the right position to take; or even, know exactly what to say and when to say it. The Lord directs His followers to, “…rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another.” (Romans 12:15-16, NIV) While grieving or entering into another’s pain or suffering isn’t a pleasant process, it’s what we’re called to if we love others. It is also important as we start engaging in dealing with race, racism and racial reconciliation. In James 1:19 we’re reminded, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” Laments and acknowledging the uncomfortable, even painful truths remind us to seek God’s help to make up for our own weaknesses and increase our dependence on Him to mend this world’s brokenness. Jesus did this in the Gospels, in both lamenting and expressing sorrow. (Matthew 23:37-39; Luke 23:34) Christ also advocated for, and reached out to, the most vulnerable whose voices the world would just as soon ignore. (Matthew 26:10:23; Mark 3:1-6; John 4:7-9)
- Focus on your Lord. This is the truest counsel we’re given in the midst of our pain and suffering. It finds its expression in Psalms 138:7-8 and in the Apostle Paul’s words recorded in Romans 8:35-38. To sail the seas of life is to acknowledge the reality of its storms…the winds of pain and waves of suffering that all will experience. Yet, a safe harbor is always near-by and we are each called to focus our spiritual eyes on the horizon where the Lord’s shelter is awaiting us if we would but steer to that place of safety. When we are faced with the reality of pain and suffering, the testimony of Scripture and the reality of Christ’s advent and His resurrection declares, “God is with you!”
God reminds Job that when things don’t seem to make sense – when suffering seems way out of proportion to anything that you would deserve – when there seems to be no explanation that makes sense, God knows the answer, and is in control. That same God cares for you. That same God is present, and He is with you.
Dear Lord, we pray that we would each be sensitive to the pain of those around us.
Father God, let your heart that gives refuge and comfort be felt by those who are oppressed, hurting, suffering and marginalized especially in the midst of their storms.
May each of us find the lament in our souls that acknowledges the pain this world so often inflicts. May we direct this suffering to the one who bore our hurts and suffering on the cross and so is able to heal.
Lord we pray to experience the fullness of God in our lives, families, and communities on the continent of Africa as we reach out to one another in compassion and understanding. May we be instruments of healing and reconciliation, in Jesus’ name.