Hope in Suffering


Emily Dickinson once wrote “Hope is a Thing With Feathers,” a 12-line poem that compares hope to a bird that she says “perches in the soul,” and sings wordless tunes non stop. In Dickinson’s metaphor, the bird sings “sweetest in the gale,”  “has kept so many warm,” and “never asks a crumb” despite the severity of the trial. Dickinson tries to capture the feeling of hope as an abstract noun. Besides poets, others grapple with the meaning of hope. The Oxford English Dictionary includes among its definitions, “a feeling of expectation and a desire for a certain thing to happen” to “aspiration, ambition, daydream, plan, assurance, assumption.” The dictionary explains the phrase “hope against hope” as “cling to a mere possibility.” When individuals suffer, they seek something less nebulous to support them in the midst of their ordeal. While feelings matter, they do not give the full picture; we need to engage the brain too, or we will view hope merely like the butterfly that rested momentarily on my hanging basket of flowers yesterday… lovely but not sustaining.

Yesterday I read an Albert Mohler article that commented on  an essay by Adam Gopnik  in the latest issue of The New Yorker. (May 19, 2010) Gopnik asserts that “the people who read and study the Gospels for a living are nearly certain that the Gospels cannot be trusted as history.” Whether “The Jesus Seminar” or a host of seminaries, virtually any notion about the inspiration of Scripture has been thrown out by those in power and print. Postmodern scholarship views the Gospels as nothing more than “Near Eastern literature,” stories where what flatters Jesus must have been propaganda from his fans, while the more negative statements are probably authentic.

As I begin a six-month study of hope in the midst of suffering, I cannot presuppose with the likes of Philip Pullman, Paul Verhoeven (director of RoboCop), or Philip Jenkins. I smile when I read Albert Schweiter’s description of such scholars as “those who look into the well of history and see their own faces.” No, my starting point jumps off from the Bible that I presuppose to be the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. Mankind has tried to create God in its own image since the Garden of Eden. Joni Eareckson Tada, a quadriplegic for more than four decades offers a good insight into suffering: “Affliction does not teach you about yourself from a textbook; it teaches you from experience. It will always show you what you love — either the God of all comfort (2 Cor. 1) or the comfort that can become your god.”

So I invite you to come along with me as I search for hope in the midst of suffering.

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5 thoughts on “Hope in Suffering

  1. “Joni Eareckson Tada, a quadriplegic for more than four decades offers a good insight into suffering: “Affliction does not teach you about yourself from a textbook; it teaches you from experience. It will always show you what you love — either the God of all comfort (2 Cor. 1) or the comfort that can become your god.”

    Flo, THANKS for this great post! Just spotted your post while tag-surfing: You’ve offered much to think about regarding hope, and specifically hope in the midst of great suffering. THANK you for unapologetically “jumping off” from the greatest immovable structure in the world: God’s Truth as we know it in Scripture. No person can ponder suffering without pondering GOD. Looking forward to reading more of your posts! — gracie;-)

    • Thanks for your encouragement. I’m speaking on the topic of Hope in Suffering in October; thus, I’ll be posting several blogs on the topic in the next few months.

  2. Good morning, Flo! I meant to say that virtually anything by Joni Eareckson is outstanding when it comes to the discussion of “hope in suffering”. Specifically, Joni’s book, “When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty” (sorry, can’t underline here), would be a great resource — perhaps you’ve already read it? – gracie

    p.s. I love the hanging flower-basket photograph on the May 21st blog. The pink flowers look like the “wave” petunias, but what are the lavender ones, I wonder? Thanks!

    • Hi Gracie, I have rad Joni’s book, used her devotionals and been privileged to hear her speak in person a few times. Her memoir, *The God I Love*, also offers deep insights. I have so much information to build into a cohesive message that God wants me to present.

      When I’m out in the side yard later, I’ll look at the tag and give you the name of the purple flower. The pink ones are wave petunias and the grass is called ponytail grass. I got the lovely basket at a local (western part of Maryland) Amish greenhouse.

      Flo

  3. I look forward to hearing about the purple flower!

    And — just as I was about to sign off, wanted to be sure to mention John Piper’s “The Misery of Job and the Mercy of God” — it’s outstanding! (It also happens to be a well-written extended poem.) The other one that came to mind is Elisabeth Elliot’s “A Path Through Suffering: Discovering the Relationship Between God’s Mercy and Our Pain” (pub. 1990 by Vine Books, an imprint of Servant Publications, from Ann Arbor, MI). — gracie

    p.s. The greatest arrow the Enemy shoots at many suffering believers is this one: “If your God were really *good*, then… [fill in the blank].” Job chapter 1 indicates that suffering may have nothing whatsoever to do with us, and everything in the universe to do with an ongoing “challenge” between God and the Enemy (though this is sometimes a very difficult concept, when *we* are the ones experiencing the sufferings…). What a comfort to know that “the goodness of God endures continually [perpetually]”!

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