When I hear about people’s suffering, I want to fix it. I want to take it away. I’ve learnt though that in almost every occasion, I can’t! My magical suffering-removing powers are far too inferior.

What I have found though is that what’s worse than suffering is suffering alone. When we realise that, we respond by coming alongside others and that in itself is an easing of pain, or at least a sharing of it.

It’s not our job to completely fix everything people are experiencing as much as we might want to. It’s our role as humans in community with other humans to come alongside, contribute, carry, and suffer with each other, and in doing that we bring a degree of repair to the relationships we engage in and the world around us becomes a little better.

In his emotionally captivating and truly disturbing book, ‘Night’ , Elie Wiesel wrote about one time during the Jewish holocaust in which he witnessed the hanging of three fellow prisoners including a young boy.

To hang a child in front of thousands of onlookers was not a small matter. The head of the camp read the verdict. All eyes were on the child. He was pale, almost calm, but he was biting his lips as he stood in the shadow of the gallows. This time, the Lagerkapo refused to act as executioner. Three SS took his place. The three condemned prisoners together stepped onto the chairs. In unison, the nooses were placed around their necks. “Long live liberty!” shouted the two men. But the boy was silent. “Where is merciful God, where is He?” someone behind me was asking. At the signal, the three chairs were tipped over. Total silence in the camp. On the horizon, the sun was setting. “Caps off!” screamed the Lagerälteste. His voice quivered. As for the rest of us, we were weeping. “Cover your heads!” Then came the march past the victims. The two men were no longer alive. Their tongues were hanging out, swollen and bluish. But the third rope was still moving: the child, too light, was still breathing … And so he remained for more than half an hour, lingering between life and death, writhing before our eyes. And we were forced to look at him at close range. He was still alive when I passed him. His tongue was still red, his eyes not yet extinguished. Behind me, I heard the same man asking: “For God’s sake, where is God?” And from within me, I heard a voice answer: “Where He is? This is where—hanging here from this gallows …” That night, the soup tasted of corpses.

To witness something as horrible as that is, to me unimaginable. Even to read of it is deeply disturbing. And what of the thought that God is also hanging there from the gallows? What does that mean? That God seems dead? It sure must have felt like that at times. But no. Love doesn’t die—love joins pain. Love doesn’t avoid pain. Surely, we are reminded that somehow wherever suffering is, God is suffering also.

The question of why suffering exists is a far too complicated one, and the causes of suffering both intentional and non-intentional, both calculated and by chance, are too many to count. One thing I reject, however, is that God causes suffering.

People often blame God for the suffering in the world saying things like, “If there is a God, he can’t be very good or very powerful because he allows so much suffering in the world.” At first thought this seems like a reasonable perception, but we must think a little further before we come to that conclusion.

According to a 2018 edition of Forbes magazine, there were 2,208 billionaires in the world at the time of publication.  Their combined worth equaled $9.1 trillion! This means that the top wealthiest 0.00003% of people in the world have the combined means to eradicate world hunger, build underground sewerage, and provide clean drinking water to every human alive.

But before we become angry towards this group (who also give away more money to charity than we can imagine) we need to ask the question that is a lot less convenient, “What am I doing to ease the suffering in the world?” If that small percentage of people has the power to change the world, think about what the rest of us could do. It isn’t only the wealthiest people’s responsibility to ease suffering – it’s all of ours. God hasn’t failed. We have. Greed, luxury, and plain ignorance keep us focused on ourselves while thousands of children go without food and won’t be alive by the time I finish the coffee I’m drinking as I write this. God, I love coffee. But let’s not get too distracted with the goodness of my latte.

This moment, this day, this life is our opportunity to engage in bringing repair to the pain in the world. Not by pointing the finger but by participating and not ignoring wherever we see hurt.

We might not, OK we will not end suffering. But to respond to it and engage with those experiencing it is to engage in the process some call God and some call love. And I’ve heard they are the same thing.


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