Lamentations 2:2, 10-14, 18-19; Matthew 8:5-17
Today’s scripture readings are an interesting mix. More than a little confusing at times. In Lamentations, the writer feels God’s anger has brought Israel to ruin. It seems to be a call to repentance and mourning. Worn out from weeping are my eyes. Cry out to the Lord. Let your tears flow like a torrent. Pour out your heart like water. The psalmist also cries out asking “Why, O God, have you cast us off forever?” And in Matthew, Jesus heals the servant of the centurion and hails the faith of the centurion. A man who is a member of the group that will kill Jesus.
The scriptures raise some hard questions. When God gets mad, does he inflict pain and suffering on people? Does God allow pain and suffering for a reason? Why is there pain and suffering at all?
I read the book Night by Ellie Weisel recently. A horrific account of a holocaust survivor. It was honestly painful to read. How can one group of people be so merciless and cruel to another group of people? And the reactions of Ellie’s camp mates to their suffering was varied. Some saw it as God’s punishment. Some saw it as a test from God. Some lost their faith in God. Some found faith in God to sustain them. I, obviously, have never experienced this sort of suffering, but I wonder how I would react. Would my relationship with God change? How much pain could I endure?
Another interesting recent read was the book Where is God when it hurts? by Philip Yancey. The book raises more questions than it answers, but one chapter was especially interesting. Mr. Yancey spent some time with a doctor in a leper colony. A place where the people want to feel pain, but, due to their disease, they cannot. Because they cannot feel pain, they do not know that they have cut their finger, or burned their foot or have an infected wound. It presents the idea that pain can serve a purpose. If you watch TV for any period of time, you are bound to see a commercial for something that will stop the pain, ease the pain, dull the pain, eliminate the pain. It would seem that we are trying to get away from pain. And yet, by just being alive, it seems we are destined for pain. Physical, mental and spiritual pain. We fall down and get hurt. As the father of seven boys, I see this on a pretty regular basis.
We form relationships and attachments to people who will hurt us. We give them our heart and they knock holes in it. One option would be to wrap ourselves up in some sort of cocoon. To have no action or interaction with anything or anyone. In a recent conversation with a gas station attendant, I asked him how his day was starting. He responded, “I didn’t hit a deer, I didn’t go in the ditch, I didn’t crash and I’m still alive.” I must have had a puzzled look, because he continued, “I find I have better days when I have limited goals.” Though insightful, I found this thought depressing.
What did Jesus think when he got up and greeted the day? What were his goals? Did he shy away from people who might cause him pain? I don’t think that God gave us life so we can hide in a cocoon. To be honest, I find today’s scriptures a little confusing. And maybe that’s okay. I often find comfort in scripture. Sometimes scripture should poke and prod and make me think and ask questions and make me uncomfortable. My prayer today would be for guidance and direction. For wisdom and discernment when reading scripture. For the opportunity to know and do God’s will.
By Daniel Patrick O'Reilly