Hauerwas on Suffering (Again)

I’ve posted this quote before, but have since started reading the book it’s drawn from. Republished as “Naming the Silences,” here’s the quote again:

There is no hope for us if our only hope in the face of suffering is that ‘we can learn from it,’ or that we can use what we learn from the treatment of that suffering to overcome eventually what has caused it (e.g., many children in the future will be helped by what we have learned by using experimental drugs on children like Carol), or that we can use suffering to organize our energies to mount effective protests against oppression. Rather, our only hope lies in whether we can place alongside the story of the pointless suffering of a child like Carol a story of suffering that helps us know we are not thereby abandoned. This, I think, is to get the question of ‘theodicy’ right. (34)

Hauerwas, I think too, gets this question exactly right.

Hauerwas and Suffering

Hauerwas has had the most influence on my thinking in the last year. I was trying to remember where I first ran into his writings. Well, this is it, a quote from his God, Medicine and Suffering:

There is no hope for us if our only hope in the face of suffering is that we can “learn from it,” or that we can use what we learn from the treatment of that suffering to overcome eventually what has caused it … or that we can use suffering to organize our energies to mount effective protests against oppression. Rather, our only hope lies in whether we can place alongside the story of the pointless suffering of a child a story of suffering that helps us know we are not thereby abandoned. This, I think, is to get the question of “theodicy” right. (34)

Amen. Thankfully, in Easter we have passed through just such a story.

Creating Space for the Sufferer

A significant barrier to developing healthy community within the Church is the degree of “fakeness” at work—putting on a happy face to keep up appearances. Christians ought to be happy, we figure—after all, we have that joy, joy, joy, joy down in our hearts! As the saying goes, “Appearances can be deceiving.” The problem not only arises from the bottom up, however. Often, church gatherings and services are organized in a way that does not allow for the healthy exposure of brokenness and depression. This top-down repression of emotional expression secludes the individual with his thoughts and feelings and forces them to stew unhealthily, below the surface.

Jesus, as usual, operates differently:

As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus [meaning, ironically, “son of honour”], was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”

So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.

The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”

“Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road. (Mark 10:46-52; cf. Matthew 20:29-34; Luke 18:35-43).

From the context of this passage (in all three gospels), we discover that Jesus is about to enter Jerusalem as a kind of symbolic prophetic act, proclaiming His kingship and evoking certain Old Testament prophecies. This event draws worship from hundreds (if not thousands), arouses the attention of the Roman guards and Pharisees and begins the last week of Jesus’ earthly life. Few things could be more important at this point. Understanding this, the crowds around Jesus tell Bartimaeus to can it—“Jesus is about to make a key political move; he doesn’t have time for you.” Jesus Himself, however, has different priorities. Fully understanding the type of kingdom that He is inaugurating through His crucifixion and resurrection, “Jesus stopped” (Mark 10:49). Because the kingdom of God is a kingdom that seeks justice for the poor and oppressed, frees the political prisoner, and restores sight to the blind, Jesus stops. He creatively opens space for the suffering of Bartimaeus, and further, He alleviates it.

Returning to the original problem, the repression of suffering in the Church, we ought to learn two things from this event: first, we should cry out (from the bottom-up) for the reception and alleviation of our suffering, and second, we should create space (from the top-down) for that suffering to come out into the open, in order that it can be soothed and cured.

Series:
III: Creating Space for the Sufferer
II: Suffering in Community
I: Types of Suffering