Archive for April, 2014

Suffering can lead to doubt or faith

“I can’t believe in God when there’s so much suffering in the world.”

If you talk to enough people about religion, you will inevitably hear this line. And it is understandable. Human anguish, brought to us in ever-increasing color by digital technologies, can be a major roadblock to faith.

“How can an all-powerful, supposedly compassionate God not intervene in the face of such misery? That’s not love; that’s hate.”

Yes, we’re in a mess. We’ve always been in a mess. The pages of history read like a CNN ticker. Tragedy runs throughout. But while suffering drives some to doubt, it drives me to faith.

Some people can’t believe in God because of the hurt they see in the world. I have to believe in God because of the hurt I see in the world. Belief in a suffering savior is the only way much of this makes sense.

But that doesn’t make suffering any easier to bear. We all dread pain. Even Christ.

“If it be your will, take this cup from me,” he prayed the night before his torturous death. A part of him wanted no part of it. Yet his willingness to endure suffering opened the tomb door to joy.

“To the extent a man can experience pain, that is the extent to which he can experience joy,” a sage once told me.

It is true. Easter Sunday came after Death Friday, not before. The path to resurrection always goes through the cross.

It’s hard to argue that our sufferings in 21st century America measure up to the travesties we hear about from around the world. And it’s hard to argue that my sufferings compare with those of the family with the sick child, the man with the deformity, the woman in the shelter.

They don’t, but they don’t have to. Suffering comes with the human condition and takes many forms. It’s life in a world where the Supreme Being refuses to dictate tranquility. Dictating tranquility would weaken our constitution.

So the question is not “Will I suffer?” The question is “How will suffering shape me?”

Will I harden in the belief that God could have stopped my suffering and didn’t?Will I assume he couldn’t care less for me?

Or will I consider that he didn’t stop my suffering for a similar reason he didn’t stop Christ’s? That he’s about something greater than a pain-free earthly existence. That he’s after resurrection joy and reconciliation.

I’ve come to believe that in the midst of pain, God strengthens the sufferer. He helps break harmful cycles. He comforts and consoles and suffers alongside.

“For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses…”

On the cross, Jesus questioned the faithfulness of God. “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

At that moment he faced the same crossroads of faith and doubt that comes with any suffering, whether local and personal or distant and universal.

By Friday night, he fell to the side of faith. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” And with that, Easter was just two days away.

 

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star. Follow him at http://www.kwt.info.

Doomsday draws near

It’s that time of year again. When 18-year-olds don caps and gowns. Not to walk across a stage, but to walk up and down a sidewalk.

Their robes are aqua green. Their caps, also aqua green, have no tassels; they have points and are made of foam rubber. Star-shaped headpieces of the kind you might (over)pay $15 for if your 3-year-old daughter bats her eyes in just the right way at the county fair.

I refer to the slightly disheveled Statues of Liberty that attempt to draw attention to your neighborhood tax preparation service. The dancing nannies of freedom with iPods playing Jimi Hendrix’s rendition of The Star-spangled Banner, no doubt.

Despite the subtle sacrilege that surely prompts a forty foot tear in the eye of Bartholdi’s masterpiece in the Hudson River, the sidewalk prophets do remind us that doomsday draws near. April 15th is a week away.

I have not always returned my taxes well before the arbitrary mid-April deadline.

Before I felt comfortable depositing checks into ATMs and paying utility bills online, I sat in Tax Night traffic jams at the airport post office, trying to get a postmark by 11:59 p.m. Martial law governed the scene.

In those moments, IRS intersected Postal Service. You talk about two federal agencies that couldn’t care less if my package made it. One got $1.46 in postage if it did. The other got $146 in interest and penalties if it didn’t. Such is life in the land of the free.

These days I file my taxes more promptly. I’m more aware of the interest-free loan I’m giving Uncle Sam when I overpay throughout the year and delay recouping.

It’s really quite a public relations coup. Hide the taxes you take all year; take more than you are due; then, heroically refund enough to fund a summer vacation. Clark Kent could have been an IRS agent.

The IRS does seem to be working on its image, notwithstanding the hassling of conservative political groups during the 2012 federal election cycle. The agency actually has a “Strategic Plan” that includes this initiative:

“Make the IRS the best place to work in government.”

I couldn’t make this stuff up.

Bring in the ping pong tables! Where’s the coffee bar??

There must be a federal agency that ranks all the other agencies in employee satisfaction. I can’t imagine IRS ever surpassing the National Park Service but points for trying. Maybe Yosemite just isn’t what it used to be.

Or maybe the IRS could take some cues from the Postal Service.

At a post office last week, I stood in line with seven other patrons waiting for the things we wait for at the post office: stamps, packages, competence.

The group of us watched while the postal workers behind the counter carried on. Inside jokes flew. Laughter ensued. It was as if we taxpayers weren’t even there. Like a curtain had drawn across the front of the counter.

After several minutes of hilarity, workers leisurely resumed entertaining customer requests.

I’m all for enjoying the work we’re given. But I couldn’t imagine a private sector manager tolerating such employee banter while waiting customers looked on.

At least I won’t have to wait in line for a postmark next Tuesday. Online tax prep software and E-filing to the rescue!

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star. Follow him at http://www.kwt.info.


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