So many people, when faced with terrible problems, focus on God’s character and how, if He existed, these things would not occur. I know this to be the case; not only have I seen it in many people close to me and celebrities, but I have gone down this path myself. I know how it can drag one down, both spiritually and emotionally. Imagine if you walked up to a guy and said, “Men are buff like Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. You are not buff, therefore, you do not exist.” This is a clear logical fallacy. However, we let our emotions drive us to say, “God is a loving deity. What is happening is not love, therefore God does not exist.” Another version of this, which I think is a larger logical fallacy, is from those who say, “God is not loving, therefore I refuse to believe He exists (or refuse to follow).” Both acknowledge He exists or could exist, but then we turn away because He does not act exactly how we think He should.
The underlying cause for this is a systemic aversion to suffering. Our culture no longer has a foundation for dealing with suffering. The ‘can-do’ attitude spills over into every aspect of life, including hardships. I am told to be grateful for what I have and move on. Sure, when the crops fail or the floods wipe them away, it is good to rebuild. It is also good to grieve what you lost.
The postmodern Church propagates this aversion to suffering. I am only familiar with Protestant church bodies. The recent Catholic writings I have read seem to include some of the ancient ideas on suffering, which is good, but I think they also lack much. If you don’t believe me and you are going through serious trials, try going into your church without a smile. Most will tell you to smile, that things aren’t that bad, that God is good (all the time), and to trust Jesus, etc. If I walk in contemplative and serious, I am told not to be depressed. When I speak about my troubles, I have been told that I am letting Satan control me. When I had questioned the suffering I faced, a church disbanded the small group I was in and told the group members to keep a distance. Effectively, they treated the suffering like a cancer and cut me out instead of helping and working through it.
Not all churches are like this and some are quite healthy, but even at the best, advice on how to compartmentalize and stifle emotions is often offered. I do not think Christ wants us to project a false image of our life. One reason Christians will give for promoting a smile or being happy is the idea that we should live ‘victoriously’. This is the idea that God is in control and that we are to live in the faith that all will work out for the good. Yes, God is in control and all will work out for His good, but this is the reason to embrace the suffering. If He uses suffering to further good, then is suffering to be stifled?
Back to the person struggling with doubt, the Church bears the responsibility for allowing the toxic positivity narrative to go unchallenged. The Church creates a disconnect when suffering is a fact of life and people see the Church pushing positivity without embracing the suffering. God is not real to the unbeliever because the Christian’s life is not reflecting that which is true. Instead, the Christian puts on a fake smile through their adversity and show the world everything is great. Imagine if others saw our struggles. How much more would our continued faith and hope in Christ through the most difficult times encourage them? When one is suffering, the thought that their belief is nonsensical alludes them. It takes an enormous effort to find logic in the mayhem of life. Again, it is the Church who should be beside them and helping them through this time.
What does embracing the suffering look like? First, a realization that not only is suffering normal, it is the de facto state since the fall of man. With sin came suffering. The Bible does not push toxic positivity but shows how normal suffering is. In Genesis, Abraham suffered infertility. In Exodus, Israel suffered 400 years while God setup another country’s punishment. Jesus was called “a man of sorrows” because of the suffering endured. The Bible advocates for continuing the ever-present struggle of striving toward the goal while knowing that things will get better, even if only in the afterlife. However, we should not constantly paint pretty pictures of the afterlife for those around us suffering. Instead, we need to walk with them so they can lean on us. If a person struggles to walk because of some physical limitation, we would offer the same support. We do not say to them, “Get up and walk alone!” Why shy back when the needed support is mental or emotional? I think people are reluctant because it is much more difficult. Christ has not called us to do what is easy, but to fully love each other as we love ourself.