Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Suffering & Miscellany

      Well, it’s been two months since my last post. “Not a little negligence” indeed. As an excuse, it turns out that there is a little bit of planning that goes into a wedding. That is especially true when one’s fiancée is a schoolteacher and not able to do any of the things that have to be done during normal business hours. It is even further complicated if your wedding is nowhere near either set of parents and so they are similarly excluded from much of the business end of things. It is a good thing that God is in charge and I am not because I would be much lazier than I can afford to be nowadays.

      On the other hand, I get to be lazy this week. Somewhat. I am out in Salt Lake City for work, going to the Acoustical Society of America spring conference. There are morning and afternoon talks and poster sessions every day this week and a couple of social functions designed to keep us scientists from being so antisocial, but I am free to do what I want. Yesterday afternoon, after I checked in too late to get into any of the sessions, I found a cute little sandwich shop and had a late lunch, then returned and did some work on wedding stuff before going to dinner with my supervisor and a collaborator of his. This afternoon there were no sessions that piqued my curiosity, so I walked around downtown, saw the temple square, ate at Carl Jr.’s, and took lots of pictures and detours. Now I’m back in my hotel room on the free wireless, keeping up on my email and online comics and writing a new blog post. Also on the to do list for the next couple of days are thank you notes, some reading, and perhaps even fixing my photo slideshow on the right. I did send my lovely fiancée some flowers today since it is her birthday and I’m so insensitive as to be out of town on such an occasion.

      All that is, however, beside the point. What I really wanted to flesh out is only tangentially related to my aforementioned trip and not at all related to the fact that I haven’t posted in two months. While on my 3 hour flight from Chicago to Salt Lake, I pulled out and read a recent publication called “The Dartmouth Apologia” which is a new academic journal put together by some Dartmouth students (a few of which are friends of mine) as “A Journal of Christian Thought.” It was entertaining reading; very well thought out and put together, so I highly recommend it (you can find it online here). It was a pair of those articles and a book that I have been reading and discussing monthly with some of the men in my church that got me thinking.

      The articles are the last two in the Journal; an interview with Baroness Caroline Cox and “Final Thoughts” by my good friend Nate (or Nathan as they call him). Baroness Cox is a humanitarian in a way that few are. She uses her position to go to where people are suffering from injustice so that she can better understand their plights and how to fight for them. She is also an evangelical Christian. When asked about how her humanitarian work has challenged her faith, she told of seeing the murdered corpses of women and children being eaten by vultures in Sudan. She wept and cried out to God, but upon thinking about it, found that this isn’t anything new or unaddressed in the Bible. While Mary and Joseph were rejoicing in the birth of Jesus, hundreds of mothers were weeping as King Herod murdered their sons. Then at the end of Jesus’ life all Mary could do was watch and weep as the Romans hung her son on the cross. This “puts the fact that evil is a reality right back into the center of theology.” She also astutely points out that the very fact that God is love is the reason that this evil is possible. Love allows freedom and the possibility for evil.

      The other article is a story that hits close to home. Almost a year and a half ago Nate’s brother fell off a cliff in India while biking and broke his neck. As a result, his legs are paralyzed, he has limited use of his hands, and he cannot move his fingers independently. This hits home because last summer my older brother, a missionary in inner city LA, had a stroke and was in a similarly life threatening situation. I can identify with the rush to get airline tickets and having family thousands of miles away. Because he had been in India just weeks before, Nate accompanied his mother halfway around the world to be with his brother. I didn’t have that option, nor did my parents need me there, so my siblings and I kept a website with updates and prayer requests.

      Now both of our brothers survived their harrowing ordeals, but the outcomes seem painfully different. My brother is almost back to full strength and is off the blood pressure medication; we suspect the tumor that caused the problems is gone. Nate’s brother is learning to see life from a wheelchair. There is a large part of me that wants to scream, “UNFAIR!” They are both Christians with remarkable attitudes. They both had people praying for them around the clock and around the world. They both had supportive families and amazing witnesses in the hospital. I can understand at least part of why they went through that part of the process, but why does one of them get to regain their physical mobility and the other not?

      There is another part of me that knows I am wrong. The question is not wrong because God certainly has his reasons, but I am wrong to ask it in such a loaded way; it is wrongheaded. The book that I am reading is called “50 Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die” by John Piper. It is a book about how God himself came with the express purpose of suffering and dying. What is wrong about my question is that I don’t understand the implications of the suffering of Christ. In my head I can begin to grasp it, but I cannot get my heart around the fact that when Christ suffered, he not only paid for my treason and redeemed me, but his suffering redeemed the very act of suffering itself. Now suffering has been elevated to a divine activity worthy of the creator of the universe; now those who suffer have a better understanding of God himself.

      Baroness Cox tells another story about an Anglican bishop in Nigeria. His village was attacked, his sons beaten, his wife raped and beaten blind and made to walk naked through the town. If this story ends here it is a horrific tragedy, but it does not. The bishop and his wife praise God that they were found worthy to suffer. They understand the truth that I cannot accept. I cannot convince my consumerist, American heart to admit that all the toys and riches and security and fulfillment that I desire God tossed aside as rubbish compared to a horrific death on a cross. Maybe that is one of the myriad of reasons that God has for allowing such unequal treatment.