A Christian Struggle with Suffering, Grief and Hope

NOVEMBER 22, 2020 08:00 AM

Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt adapted from the book “Beautiful and Terrible Things: A Christian Struggle with Suffering, Grief, and Hope” by Christian Brady published in September. Visit ChristianBrady.com for more information.

Hope is the very substance of the means of our existence and is at the heart of what might seem the most hopeless of expressions: the lament. When our son Mack died, within my heart and mind I let out the involuntary cry of lament borrowed from the psalmist, “My God! Why have you forsaken me!” A declaration more than a question, it came from the depth of my soul, my honest, angry cry of tears and pain as I demanded to be heard by God.

I readily admit that I am not someone who has had visions from God, nor have I felt a strong voice in my thoughts, directing me when I have been in a moment of strife or dismay. What I have experienced, and on many occasions, are amazing interruptions in my life that have shown me the spirit of God at work. Shortly after I had graduated from college, I had such a striking set of circumstances. I had been dating a woman for over three years and we had begun to make plans to get married. So, I purchased a ring, traveled to another country where she was studying, and before I could even show her the ring, let alone unpack my bags, she told me that our relationship would go no further. She was right and I was grateful to her for her honesty and forthrightness. But I grieved. My prayers and plans had evaporated. Yet I also felt a peace. It was the right decision, and I don’t know if I would have made it. She did.

I returned to my graduate program and volunteering at the radio station. There, “coincidentally,” was this remarkable woman who had recently returned from mission work in West Africa. Elizabeth had plans of her own that included serving God and not dating anyone. Fourteen months later we were married, and we have continued to experience God’s presence through all sorts of wonderful, difficult and demanding times, from the call the day before our wedding offering a chance to study at Oxford, England, to the hundreds of people who came to Mack’s funeral. We entered into the union of heart, body, and mind intended by God for our “mutual joy and for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity” (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 423) not knowing what might be ahead, but certain of God’s presence with us. Our hope rests in God for today and tomorrow.

So we must remember the past and hope for the future even as we walk in the confidence of the love of God. It is never an easy journey and it requires honesty. We must look truthfully at our own lives and the world we live in. Counter to young Nietzsche, hope does not keep us in a pliable state, but rather provides us with the resilience and strength needed to be honest about life. When we hope, we can address the wickedness and hurt in the confidence that God will ultimately bring justice and healing to all of Creation. Through hope, we can come through joblessness and broken relationships and walk forward with purpose and meaning.

Honesty requires that we also acknowledge that we may struggle to find those moments of grace in our lives; they may be few and far between. Elizabeth and I have had moments when it felt that God was ordering our every step from one blessing to the next. Then we have had times when we felt our faithfulness had been for naught. Yet even then we found that God was present. When we honestly assess our own lives, neither omitting the periods of wilderness nor the times of comfort, a narrative will emerge that includes both suffering and grace. In this world there are both beautiful and terrible things, and it is the knowledge that God is with us and the hope of life eternal that enables us to make our way. God says, “Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It’s for you I created the universe. I love you” (Frederick Buechner, “Grace,” in Beyond Words: Daily Reading In The ABC’s Of Faith, (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2004).

Christian Brady is the father of Mack Brady, a scholar of the Bible and ancient Judaism, an Episcopal priest and an author. This column is coordinated by www.learningtolivewhatsyourstory.org, whose mission is to create educational and conversational opportunities for meaningful intergenerational exchanges on loss, grief, growth and transformation.

This was first printed in the Centre Daily Times on November 22, 2020.