A few days ago, I was feeling a little sombre, and decided to re-watch The Shack. Many of you will have read the book, and the film is a good interpretation of it. It’s an incredible, powerful story. If you don’t know it, I truly encourage you to read it.
One line struck me – Sarayu, the Holy Spirit, at one point says to Mack: “You’re looking for a pain-free life. There isn’t one.”
How true! Not only is there no such thing as a pain-free life, it is our wounds and our scars that make and shape us. Our broken edges, when they heal, allow us to have greater empathy for others. The person who is un-wounded, who has never known suffering, cannot possibly empathise or understand those who do suffer. The one who has never known hunger or cold or poverty cannot imagine what it truly feels like in the soul to be in that place. The one who has not lived in constant fear, unable to be themselves because of the terror of reprisal or punishment, cannot imagine how such fear can corrode the soul.
This Sunday’s readings are about faith – both our faith in God, and God’s faithfulness to us. If we misunderstand either of those, then we set ourselves up for failure, and we will end up very angry with God, feeling that He has let us down. That He has not been faithful. If we expect that faith in God will mean that our lives are materially prosperous and worry-free, then indeed we will become angry and disillusioned.
But faith is about God’s presence in the midst of the chaos, the pain, the dirt, the dust and the mire of human life. God created us out of dust and dirt and breathed His own life into us. And in Jesus he became truly part of the dirt and dust of earth and human life. He suffered in so many ways – ways that many of us, particularly in the Western world, will never truly understand.
His followers throughout the centuries have had all kinds of lives. But I will dare to suggest that rarely have any of those lives been free of struggle and pain, in one way or another.
Faith is trusting that God will walk with us, through the darkness, through the pain, through the agonies and fears that we will endure, through death itself. Faith is trusting that God will never leave us alone or abandoned, no matter how dark a place we may be in. And faith means that we hold the hand of those in such dark places, offering comfort and succour, knowing that we too have been there.
Faith knows that there is nowhere that God has not been, nowhere he cannot go, and nothing that can prevent Him being alongside us. All we ever have to do is to ask, and then to trust. God will not rescue us from suffering. But He will endure it with us. And for that mercy, thanks be to God.