If there is a common denominator of human experience, it must be the experience of pain and suffering.
I used to think alot about the “why” question when it comes to the issue of suffering. I think this is really a western philosophy-sort of thinking. Eastern traditions such as buddhism, taoism and confuciusism were concern with the more existential question of how to escape sufferings, while the problem of sufferings within the Western philosophy more often than not sought to ask the “why” question.
One of the most complex philosophical problems is the question on the existence of a good god and the problem of evil and sufferings. I believe even within the hebraic tradition, esp. in the book of Job, traditionally a book dealing with sufferings, there is a sense that the moral of the story is, “there’s no point asking ‘why'”.
But that doesn’t mean the bible refused to acknowledge the reality of sufferings.
One of the most profound themes about suffering in the Bible is “compassion”, an oft-used word which sometimes lost the force of its meaning – “to suffer together” (co-passion, co-suffer, suffering together).
YHWH is not a god who is content with merely saying “i love you”. He wants to get involved. And Isaiah painted a very powerful picture – To an agrarian society, Isaiah 52:10 immediately reminds of the farmer getting ready to go into the dirts of the earth, the mud of the field, to go down to business, with sleeves rolled up:
God has rolled up his sleeves. All the nations can see his holy, muscled arm. Everyone, from one end of the earth to the other, sees him at work, doing his salvation work. (The Message)
And then in Isaiah 53:1-12, the author painted another picture, this time more bloody and more sensational. It was the picture of god’s servant being abused, being tortured, being mocked, and finally brutally murdered. And we saw that in many different words, the author wanted us to believe that the servant was going through the experience of suffering for someone else, and at times almost as if it was for us.
The New Testament prophets and apostles believed that Jesus was the servant who suffered, but more than that, the ultimate shocking experience of the earliest disciples was that Jesus was YHWH himself who suffered. The servant who suffered with, and not only with, but who suffered for the suffering world was god himself. The god who rolled up his sleeves and got down to business – to be abused and bullied and killed.
But where should the Church be in all this?
Romans 8, yes, the world, the whole Creation is groaning (v 22). Suffering is a common denominator, the reality which all humanity experiences without exception. The Church, in her divinely ordained ministry of restoration, is called to be co-sufferers, to groan together with the Creation (v 23). This is the only way we can be healing agents. It is easy for us to give hope and healings from afar, yet such hope cannot be very hopeful to a suffering world. That’s James for you, mere words of blessings and hope are not enough. Like the god of Isaiah who rolled up his sleeves and got into the dirts and mud, we must get involve, to be involve especially in the experience of suffering, to suffer together.
The thing about our groanings is we are not doing it merely to be a company with the suffers, but rather, we are identifying ourselves as part of the suffering humanity, as part of the groaning Creation. We too are in need of the complete redemption of the decaying material world we are in, and we of all people must realize this. Only with such enlightenment can we be a true co-sufferer, only with such awareness of our own frailty can we empathize with fellow human beings in their sufferings.
And we come back a full circle, where is god in all this? God is “ever co-suffering” with the suffering world, through the saints who are co-sufferers with the world (v 26).
That is the beauty of it all, god who is ever-involved dispenses his healing, that is, the true hope of emancipation through his Church when she suffers in hope together with the suffering world; in other words, when the Church has compassion for the suffering world.