When Mother Theresa first visited the streets of Calcutta, her heart wept over the deplorable conditions that people lived in. Disease was rampant, people were starving to death, women and children were mistreated and abused. If you had the misfortune of being born as a Dalit (Untouchable), you were considered even lower than an animal. Suffering was everywhere.
No doubt she cried out to God to intervene in these situations, and He often did . . . through her. But, the bulk of her ministry was simply loving people in the midst of their suffering. She created a place where the gravely ill could come and die with dignity. She would sit with them, do all that she could to ease their pain, stroke their hair and hold their hand, and let them know that God loved them dearly. Very rarely did God take away their suffering in this life . . . but through Mother Theresa, He let them know that they were dearly loved and that their suffering did not go unnoticed.
Ever since I started writing about precious little Layla Grace and her battle with cancer, I’ve been struck by one question that keeps coming up again and again — Why does Layla have to suffer? In the words of one reader: “Pastor Michael, I too have been following Layla’s story and it has touched some very deep issues with me. I’m struggling to find some meaning. I understand what you’re saying, but it still doesn’t explain why God is allowing her to SUFFER so much. I understand that we can’t take our time on earth for granted, because God could call us home at any time. But why the suffering?”
I wish there were easy answers, and at times my best answer to this is “I don’t know”. Like many of you, I’ve been through some pretty serious stuff in life, and I’ve seen and experienced a lot of suffering. And, like you, I’ve struggled to make sense of it. I don’t have all the answers, but this I know . . . God suffers, too. He doesn’t just watch from far off as our sin infested world wallows in suffering. No – he let go of heaven, came down to earth, and suffered with us. The Bible describes Jesus as “a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering” (Isaiah 53:3) Jesus wept at the death of his friend Lazarus, he knew what it was like to be rejected by his closest friends, he suffered and died on the cross for the sins of the world, and most difficult of all was when he was forsaken by his Father in heaven. We may still shake a fist at God and cry out “Why?!”, but we aren’t yelling at a far off cruel God. We cry out to a God who willingly walked the road of suffering with us.
Ryan and Shanna showed me another truth about suffering . . . without even realizing it. Until the last couple of days, Layla was held almost non-stop by one of her parents. Every time I went over to the house, she was pressed against either Ryan or Shanna’s chest. If they moved at all, she’d say “I want to eat” (code for “don’t set me down”). And they didn’t. They simply held her, loved her, and showed her a compassion and care that words can’t adequately describe. As I watched them love this precious little girl through her suffering, I saw a glimpse of God’s love that could never be seen in good times. Layla wasn’t just wrapped in the loving arms of her mom and dad . . . she was held very closely in the arms of her Father in heaven as well. There is a side of love that can only be seen through suffering.