Seth Haines is a true Renaissance man: formerly in Christian ministry, now lawyer, poet, editor, writer, musician, husband, father. I read his perspective on doubt and suffering voraciously. He’s not one for easy answers and his words always lead me to better theological reflection and that deep comfort that I know to be true. (I do so like those Haineses.) I write with Amber each Monday, and it’s an honour to have Seth in this space today:
In the summer of 2012, our eight-month old Titus stopped growing. Feeding him had become a great chore, and when we could cajole him to eat, his body quickly rejected it. The local doctors realizing that this was a case that required additional expertise, we admitted to Arkansas Children’s Hospital where a team of specialists poked, prodded, and scanned my wasting son in an effort to determine the precise cause of his illness. I watched as he suffered through daily blood draws and the placement of a feeding tube through his nose. I helped force-feed him barium contrast, held him down for the x-rays. He endured CT scans, endoscopic procedures, internal biopsies. Titus had become a flesh-and-blood laboratory experiment.
It was a grueling process, and over our two week stay, the specialists reached no definitive answers. As I watched him to waste away, watched his ribs become exposed, watch his cheeks sink, and his frame skeletonize, I began to flounder in desperation. If God was so good, why wouldn’t he merely say the word and heal my son?
When life upends you, it’s tricky to balance human suffering and the goodness of God. It’s tempting to default to cliché tautologies–God is good because he is God–but these kinds of pat answers seem unsatisfying in the moment, and the starkness of our personal suffering seems to heighten awareness of the plight of all humanity. There are wars, famines, diseases, injustices, and where, pray tell, is God?
In the wee hours of the morning, I’d often pace the hospital floor. The hustle and bustle of the day gone by, the halls were quiet, filled only with the whir of hospital machines and the occasional beep at the nurses station. There, in the dimmed lights, I’d walk and ask God where he was, why he wouldn’t simply heal Titus. Time after time, my questions were answered with nothing more than my small recollection of Jesus’ words on suffering,
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).
I meditated on his words, and the quality of his promise sank deep, brought an otherworldly peace. In these moments, I realized that it is not the quality of the here-and-now that is to shape our view of God’s goodness; rather, it is the quality of his overcoming, the promise of the coming kingdom of perfection.
Titus is on the mend these days, slowly gaining weight and heading back toward health. For this we are thankful. But neither his sickness nor his health are the measure of God’s goodness, nor is God’s goodness measured in trite tautological statements. Instead, God’s goodness finds its richness in the act of his overcoming, in the depth of his peace, and in the quality of the kingdom come.
For that, I wait expectantly. Because, as the Psalmist says, I believe that I shall see the goodness of God in the land of the living.
Over to you:
- “it is not the quality of the here-and-now that is to shape our view of God’s goodness; rather, it is the quality of his overcoming” – how easy do you find it to hang onto this?
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