“Everything of value I’ve ever learned in life has been through suffering.” -Malcolm Muggeridge
I took a bible class in college where the professor used 2 books. The first was Know What You Believe by Paul Little. The second was Know Why You Believe by the same author. In these books, Paul Little poses questions such as “Is Christianity rational?” “Is there a God?” “Are miracles possible?” “Why does God allow suffering and evil?” I enjoyed the class very much, and I remember thinking how blessed I was to be taught all of those things my entire life.
The King household was a pretty wonderful place to call home. The Christian faith was taught, along with respectful attitudes, calm voices, giving hearts, and extremely loving ways. I never felt as if anything was “forced down my throat” as far as theology went. It was just the lifestyle demonstrated to me, and I never felt the need to question it. It all made perfect sense as far as I was concerned.
Things were definitely not perfect in the King house. We had our share of hard times, to say the least. Mother’s initial cancer diagnosis in 1995 was difficult to deal with, but I never felt the need to question suffering in the world or God’s existence. Watching her suffer was not easy, but I never felt my faith shaken in any way.
Other life events transpired anyone would deem “difficult”, and again, no questions from me for God. I would pray harder and felt my faith strengthen. Even with Mom’s second cancer diagnosis in 2009, I knew everything was going to be okay. We prayed for the “strength, wisdom, peace, and grace” to get through, and we did. I put those words (in the prior sentence) in quotes because they almost seem cliché to me now. It is, however, what most prayers consist of when you need God in hard times.
Enter November 2011. For MONTHS prior to November, we watched Mother suffer in so much pain with what doctors thought was shingles. She suffered from lymphedema which we thought stemmed from her mastectomy. She suffered from a blood clot in her extremely swollen arm. She lived with so much pain and we just could not figure out why.
She missed Charlotte’s 3rd birthday. She missed a dinner honoring her for a nomination for business woman of the year. She missed the funeral of one of her very best friends. She missed church every Sunday. She missed work every day. What in the world was causing her this much pain? NOTHING kept my Mother away from these things. Until now.
Everything in our lives changed in November when one doctor finally thought to biopsy those “shingles”, and for the last time, I finally heard my Mother tell me it was cancer again in November of 2011. At that moment, I felt my faith shake. To be completely honest, I felt my faith disappear.
I glanced at a note Mom wrote from the phone call with the doctor who gave her the news. Her handwriting was pitiful because of the swelling in her arm, so it caught my attention. On that scratch piece of paper, I saw the words “metastasized cancer”. I had no idea what it meant. I put that paper in my pocket, hugged my Mother for what seemed like years, and went home to consult Dr. Google.
Dr. Google’s prognosis: statistically speaking, 4 years.
My head was spinning, my heart was broken, and all I could think was only 4 more birthdays, 4 more thanksgivings, 4 more beach trips, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc. Question God? No way. I couldn’t even speak, much less pray. Cry was all I could do that week.
I still can’t talk about the next few months following that prognosis, but we didn’t even have 4 years. We only had 4 short months.
I recall all of that, not to give Mother’s medical history, but to explain how I discovered the faith I never thought could be moved, was shaken to the core.
Why did God create us if He knew there would be so much pain and suffering in the world?
Why, when we pray at the most intense levels we have ever prayed in our lives, do we feel as if the prayers are not answered?
Why did she have to suffer so long without knowing what was happening to her?
My uncle, in such a beautiful way, mentioned the story of Job during Mom’s funeral. I don’t remember a lot about that day, but I do remember hearing him say this:
“You may remember that Job suffers unspeakable tragedy. He loses his herds. All of his children, seven sons and three daughters are killed in a hurricane. And then he came down with a case of boils that rendered him almost incapable of thinking of anything else. Job had four well-meaning friends who sought to give him explanations for his suffering, but Job knew that he had done nothing to deserve such ills. His wife doesn’t try to offer an explanation. She does suggest, however, that he curse God in the hopes that God would put him out of his misery. Instead of doing that, Job asks God for an explanation.
If you read the rest of the Book of Job you will read some of the greatest poetry in the Bible about all the wonderful things that God created, but you won’t hear one word of explanation. God tells Job that it would be useless to try to explain. He wouldn’t understand it anyway.
However, suppose God did offer Job an explanation, a reason for everything right down to and including the case of boils. It wouldn’t bring back all that he had possessed. He would still have to see his children’s empty chairs at the table each night. He would still have to suffer through the boils. An explanation was not what Job needed. He needed a presence. And that is what God gave him.”
– Jim King, Mother’s funeral service
I believe (and others may disagree with me) it is okay to ask questions. I believe God understands our need to know why. I believe that through my doubts, shaken faith, fears, researching, and questions, that I will eventually possess such a faith that I could never even imagine. I do not feel it now. I’m not even close. The best way I know to sum up my feelings at this point is yet another quote from a book that has given much comfort in the past few days.
“You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth of falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it?”
― C.S Lewis, A Grief Observed
My sentiments exactly.