Gratitude is a first step in confronting the whys of suffering

At some point in life every person must pass through the rigors of doubt and darkness.

The most likely crucible of theological wrestling contends with the question of why evil, suffering and hardship befall a world created by a good God.

When we try to explore possible answers to this question honestly, solutions are nearly impossible to come by.

All too often, we try to frame suffering with a variety of cliché answers: God has a purpose, it’s the will of God, all things work together for the good, humans are sinful, and so on.

But, really, folks, who in the midst of suffering wants to hear that it was God’s will to take the life of a loved one, especially a child?

That may be the lesson learned years later, but for the person in the midst of grief, these cheap charade answers simply mask the fear of death that we all carry deep within our hearts.

This past week, my own wrestling with why bad things happen to good people emerged in light of our community’s loss of Deputy Brian Mahaffey.

We are left with tears and overwhelming, if not intimidating, questions.

Remember that Job did not get any answers as to why he lost his whole family to senseless destruction; instead, God asked Job more questions. The whole thing seems unfair, senseless. Trite answers will not suffice.

In the face of loss, we feel like broken vessels hoping that the cement God used to put us together is strong enough to hold His living presence until the dawn of tomorrow greets our eyes anew.

When the cement does not hold and our emotions chaotically spill through the fissures, we thirst for some sense of justice and clarity. We long for a sliver of hope.

When I wrestled with this issue, that sliver came from the late John Claypool. This Baptist minister-turned-Episcopalian priest lost his 10-year old daughter to cancer. It took him more than a month after her death to preach again.

His first sermon upon his return to church, “Life is a Gift,” explored grief in light of the Genesis text in which God asked Abraham to offer his only son, Isaac, as a sacrificial offering.

After commenting on the death of his daughter, Claypool said this: “It is at this point that Abraham’s experience and my own break off in different directions. He got to go down the mountain with his child by his side, and, oh, how his heart must have burst with joy at having come through so much so well.

“But my situation is different. Here I am, left alone on that mountain, with my child and not a ram there on the altar, and the question is: how on Earth do I get down and move back to the normalcy of life? … I am left to grope through the darkness by myself, and to ask: ‘Where do I go from here? Is there a road, and if so, which one?’”

After meandering through several possible clues as to why he lost his daughter, Claypool admits that the only point of light in his situation was his recognition that life — all of life — is a gift to be received with abounding gratitude.

He continued, “And I am here to testify that this is the only way down from the mountain of loss. I do not mean to say that (gratitude) makes things easy, for it does not. But at least it makes things bearable when I remember that (my daughter) was a gift, pure and simple, something I neither earned nor deserved nor had a right to.

“And when I remember that the appropriate response to a gift, even when it is taken away, is gratitude, then I am better able to try and thank God that I was given her in the first place.”

I can’t help but cry for John Claypool and all the Claypools of the world, for that is such a lonely mountain to be on. And I can only stand with them in utter brokenness and silence, hoping and praying that life’s gifts pull us through.

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