“You will never learn from fencing.”

Giving up my career and risking my reputation in order to tell God’s story involved what sometimes seemed like an intolerable sacrifice.  But, of course, it paled in comparison to the suffering human beings have experienced over the centuries.  Any person who believes in God has to confront the problem of human suffering.  Why does God permit it?

“Lord, does suffering have any purpose or meaning?”

Of course, suffering is what makes life serious.  Imagine a world in which actions never resulted in suffering.  Imagine a world without the pain of regret, without feeling bad about doing something wrong (or) shameful.

“But disease serves no moral purpose.”

Now you are relapsing into fencing with Me on “the problem of pain.”  Just listen.  You will never learn from fencing.

 

“These moments were not empty suffering”

Any person who believes in God has to confront the problem of human suffering. Why does God permit it?

“Lord, does suffering have any purpose or meaning?”

Of course, suffering is what makes life serious. Imagine a world in which actions never resulted in suffering. Imagine a world without the pain of regret, without feeling bad about doing something wrong (or) shameful.

“But disease serves no moral purpose.”

Now you are fencing with Me on “the problem of pain.” Just listen. You will never learn from fencing.

Disease, disaster, aging, death are essential aspects of suffering. “We” live in a physically vulnerable world. That is the essential condition that makes life serious.

“All that’s rather abstract, Lord. What exactly does disease do for us?” I thought of Job’s boils.

Suffering is the test of your humanity. There is no greater test than pain—how one copes with it. It is easy to be nice, faithful, and such, when things are great, but very hard under adversity.

“But, Lord, that just seems perverse—or cruel.”

No, that’s not so. Think about your own times of physical suffering—in the hospital, for example—the shots, the clumsy aide, the itch, the nurse about urinating, those were full of growth.

Those examples brought back memories. A couple of years before these prayers began, I suffered a mild heart attack and was rushed to the intensive care unit. They took blood tests, day and night. There are a limited number of places from which blood can be drawn, and the same spot cannot be used again right away. The wrists are ideal, but mine are sensitive and a needle there smarts. One does not have much power as a patient, but safeguarding my wrists became my prime imperative. One after another blood drawer would come, and I would plead, argue, wheedle, and insist they find some other place to puncture me. Each resisted, then managed to find a spot.

I was transferred to another hospital for the surgical procedure. I was met by a technician who said his name and stuck out his hand—while looking the other way and standing on my oxygen tube. When it was time to go into the operating room, he snatched away my blanket with so violent a jerk it would have ripped out the intravenous insertion if I had not by now been on high alert.

Once in the operating room, I was placed on a slab with my arms flat at my side. Medical equipment loomed above, posing an impressive threat. “Don’t move!” I was told. My nose chose that moment to itch. The itch grew intense, then more intense, dreadfully intense, until nothing existed but me and that itch. Then I understood. I can’t fight it. I just have to live with it, until the procedure is over. I don’t know if the itch went away or what—I forgot all about it.

The procedure went smoothly. I watched the monitor as the surgeon snaked a catheter through an incision in my groin up to a major coronary artery where a stent had to be placed.

Opening an artery is a very serious matter. Bleeding can be life-threatening. The patient has to lie flat and immobile for twenty-four hours. Nurses at my first hospital had been angels in white, but here I was attended by Nurse Ratched’s less charming twin. She seemed to resent patients needing her help. Finding it difficult to manage the bedpan flat on my back, I asked for assistance. She acted as if it were a dirty-minded request and responded by threatening me, “If you can’t manage the bedpan, we will catheterize you!” Finally, I did manage, and it was time to close up the artery. Another patient had told me the closing could be dangerous as well as painful.

“Who is to perform this delicate operation?”

Nurse Ratched gave me the grim news: young Mr. Sizzorhands, the technician whose previous efforts to hurt me had been foiled, would now have another shot. I asked for someone else. “He is the only technician available.”

“I am not going to let that guy lay another hand on me.”

She made it a battle of wills. We went back and forth. Finally I said, “Let me speak to the doctor.”

She said she would see what she could do and, after a time, she returned with a young Asian-American attendant. He had magical hands. I didn’t feel a thing.

My body was recovering nicely, but the whole experience—starting with “indigestion” in the night (I didn’t know that was a heart symptom), calling the office the next morning to find out what nearby doctor was covered by my health plan, driving myself (fool that I was) to the doctor’s office, filling out forms and waiting for some time before going up and telling the receptionist, “I may be having a heart attack,” the quick examination and discovery that I was at that very moment in the throes of an incipient attack, an emergency medical team rushing to my side trying to head it off, being shoveled into an ambulance, the sirens, intensive care, the surgery, the whole ordeal—left me feeling fragile, as if I were made of spun glass. A sharp tap and I would shatter.

They (these moments) were not empty suffering; they even had to do with leading you to Me.

“How so, Lord?”

They focused your attention on your mortality, which (led) you to open your heart fully to Abigail because you realized how precious this love was. And it led to your prayer to serve God.

Illuminations

I will be there.

Let’s go to Moses.

Exodus reports that the Israelites “groaned from the bondage and cried out, and their plea from the bondage went up to God.  And God heard their moaning, and God remembered [literally, took to heart] His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.  And God saw the Israelites, and God knew.”

“What did You know?”

What I needed to do.

“And what was that?”

Read the next chapter.

“It’s about Moses encountering the burning bush.”

Yes, I had to get his attention.  Often I have to put something in people’s paths to get their attention.

“And the Lord’s messenger appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of the bush, and he saw, and look, the bush was burning with fire and the bush was not consumed.  And Moses thought, ‘Let me, pray, turn aside that I may see this great sight, why the bush does not burn up.’  And the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, and God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, ‘Moses, Moses!’  And he said, ‘Here I am.’’’

“He reports for duty, ‘Here I am.’”

Moses had the capacity to listen to Me and to obey.

God gives Moses his mission.  “And now, go that I may send you to Pharaoh, and bring My people the Israelites out of Egypt.”  And Moses asks, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and that I should bring out the Israelites from Egypt?”

But Moses will not be on his own.  “And He said, ‘For I will be with you.’”

Moses protests.  “Look, when I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is His name?’, what shall I say to them?”

There are various translations of God’s answer, the most revealing of which is by Everett Fox.  Moses should tell them “I will be-there” sends me to you.  “What does this mean, Lord?”

Several things are going on in that name.  I did disclose it and they got it essentially right.  Self-disclosure is part of it.  Presence is part of it.  The fact that I am seen all the time, that I am ever-present to people, communicating with them sotto voce all the time.  It is also reassurance, because I am there to help.  When you need me, I will be there.  It also has something to do with the quality of presence, that I am fully and authentically and immediately and intimately present, as when you say that one person is “more present” than another.

It means that My essence for human beings is that I will be there, be present, that I am a companion and friend and ally; that My very presence is the heart of Me, and is what (the what of Me) human beings need to know, (the what of Me) that matters.

I will be there for you, by your side, in the fight or in the suffering or in the love.  I will be a participant and a partner.  That is My essence for human beings.