All people encounter trials. Many people suffer. Few people experience what Mark Talbot calls “profound suffering.” On Friday, the same day as the Japan earthquake/tsunami, I read his chapter “When All Hope Has Died: Meditations on Profound Christian Suffering” in For the Fame of God’s Name.
Many in Japan are experiencing profound suffering right now. One week ago, their lives were moving right along, thank you! Life had its share of challenge, for sure, but nothing too out of ordinary for millions in Japan. All that has changed and thousands upon thousands have gone without proper food, water, and heat. They have lost homes, their work, and most of all, loved ones. See here, here, and here
What is the role of profound suffering? Why does it happen? Indeed as Talbot says, “suffering often causes us to reconsider the course and quality of our lives.” God often uses suffering as his divine megaphone.
C. S. Lewis wrote about the profound suffering he experienced when he lost his wife. In The Problem of Pain he describes his own experience in these words,
“My own experience is something like this. I am progressing along the path of life in my ordinary contentedly fallen and godless condition, absorbed in a merry meeting with my friends for the morrow or a bit of work that tickles my vanity today, a holiday or a new book, when suddenly a stab of abdominal pain that threatens serious disease, or a headline in the newspaper that threatens us all with destruction, sends this whole pack of cards tumbling down. At first I am overwhelmed, and all my little happinesses look like broken toys. Then, slowly and reluctantly, bit by bit, I try to bring myself into the frame of mind that I should be in at all times. I remind myself that all these toys were never intended to possess my heart, that my true good is in another world and my only real treasure is Christ. And perhaps, by God’s grace, I succeed, and for a day or two become a creature consciously dependent on God and drawing its strength from the right sources. But the moment the threat is withdrawn, my whole nature leaps back to the toys: I am even anxious, God forgive me, to banish from my mind the only thing that supported me under the threat because it is now associated with the misery of those few days. Thus the terrible necessity of tribulation is only too clear. God has had me for but forty-eight hours and then only by dint of taking everything else away from me. Let Him but sheathe that sword for a moment and I behave like a puppy when the hated bath is over — I shake myself as dry as I can and race off to reacquire my comfortable dirtiness, if not in the nearest manure heap, at least in the nearest flower bed. And that is why tribulations cannot cease until God either sees us remade or sees that our remaking is now hopeless.”
Talbot state, “By prompting us to rethink our shallow confidences and see through the illusions that usually fool us, suffering should lead us to revise both the ground and content of our hopes. . . . We should abandon the sinful dream that anything other than the everlasting enjoyment of the triune God and his people can ultimately satisfy us.”