The Nobel Peace prize winner Alexandr Solzhenitsyn knew first-hand the harsh realities of suffering.
He spent over ten years imprisoned in a Soviet gulag. It seems that the daily deprivations of prison life were somehow able to stimulate a creative genius in him. His books are now literary classics. His novel, One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich, the book Solzhenitsyn considered his best, focuses on a prisoner, Shukov. This remarkable man accepted horror, pain and suffering as normative. A typical day would consist of forced labour, tiny rations and brutal guards, with disease and death never far away.
Yet in these subhuman, sub zero conditions, Shukov would often climb into bed at night, count his blessings and gratefully conclude “a day without a dark cloud. Almost a happy day.”
Our world is so different to Shukov’s. Many of us have more than we need in creature comforts. We walk around supermarkets in shopping centres and are glad consumers of the newest and the latest in fashion and technology.
Yet, despite the leisure and luxury of our culture there is an extraordinary fragility to our generation. We collapse easily, our relationships break down and we are quick to take offence. We live in a culture of complaint and entitlement. In this celebrity obsessed world we are cosseted away from death and anaesthetised against pain. We need to be reminded that it’s normal to have problems, to get sick, hurt and be mistreated by life. Loss and death is part of life.
Along with promises of companionship, courage and comfort in times of trial, Jesus promises ‘you will have trouble’ (John 16: 33).
This is not a verse most Christians have as a magnet on the fridge. Jesus is reminding us to expect that life will at times be tough, sad and unfair. Jesus suffered a painful humiliating death on a cross and many of his early disciples faced violent persecution and dark dungeons.
We may hope for the perfect spouse, healthy children, successful careers, but seldom does life turn out that way. As Christ followers we need to accept the good with the bad, the days of sunshine and the dark days of storm. God is with us through thick and thin.
Paul longed not just to know ‘the power of the resurrection’ but also ‘the fellowship of sharing in his suffering.’ (Phil 3: 10).
As I mourn the passing of a loved one, I am grateful that the Lord I seek to serve was the long awaited ‘man of sorrows, familiar with grief’ (Isaiah 53:3).
I love that Jesus laughed, partied, loved, healed and forgave and that ‘Jesus wept’ (John 11: 35).
In our trials, troubles and tears through his spirit, Christ is with us. May this truth sustain us each day.
Rev Steve Francis, Moderator of the Uniting Church WA