Series on Suffering #7 – An Invitation to Return

Father and Son

Series on Suffering by Robynn

An Invitation to Return – Part 1

There is an agonizing set of questions that has been troubling people since the beginning of time. Where is God when I hurt? Where is God in the face of devastating suffering? Why doesn’t he rescue? Why doesn’t he bring relief? Why does it often seem he suddenly goes mute and distant, silent and removed.

I don’t want, for a second, to minimize this. These are huge questions. They are big and voluminous. They rattle around our souls, echoing, taunting. We dare not treat them flippantly. But I wonder if there’s not another set of questions that begs asking as well. Where am I when I hurt? Where do I go in the face of devastating suffering? Where do I turn for relief and rescue? Do I suddenly go mute and distant, silent and removed?

It seems to me that suffering, among other things, is also a profound and personal invitation to return to God. We are most vulnerable when we hurt. Desperation and a deep desire for relief and comfort pound our souls like waves on a turbulent sea. It’s relentless. The squeaky wheel, the demanding child, the sounding alarm….the suffering soul repeatedly begs for mercy. I believe that God is present and longs to welcome us, bruised, hurting, grieving, in desperation, home to him. God is far from distant. He is near….an ever-present help in trouble.  Suffering might very well be his request for our attention– to be present to him, to find him there waiting.

There is a fabulous little story that Jesus told. It’s the story of the prodigal son. Books have been written about it, poems penned, paint put to canvas in an effort to capture some of the profound emotion connected to this story. We are all familiar with it. There’s a father and his two sons. The younger son craves adventure and freedom and asks the father if he might cash in on his inheritance early. The older son, I’m sure, rolls his eyes at the absurdity of the request. Their dad is still very much alive. How ridiculous to even ask for such a thing! But it’s worse. In a Middle Eastern context he is basically saying to his dad “I wish you were dead.”

Much to the shock and consternation of the older brother and all who hear the story, the father says yes. He gives the younger son half of what he would have had coming. The younger son, with joy and excitement rides off into the sunset, for the time of his life!

He has the time of his life alright! —but it was hardly the frivolity and fun he was hoping for. He rapidly burns through his money-stash on wild living. In the midst of a local famine and with no resources, he begins to starve. The younger son finds work feeding animals. He’s in such a bad way that even the animal food looks good to him. He’s broke, friendless, starving and doing work that he despises.

The depths of his suffering bring him back to his senses. He bravely goes home to face the humiliating consequences of his many bad choices.

So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’

“But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.

The father full of love and compassion, joy and delight runs to his son! Imagine the fuss and the chaos! Servants are being shouted for…people are running in circles to obey the Father’s wishes! Luxurious garments and gold rings are not the response the prodigal son was expecting. This father –son embrace is pure grace. The son knew how far he had wandered, how much he had wasted, how long he had strayed. And he returned not to punishment, not to the silent treatment, not to condemnation, not to judgment, not to manipulation and distortion, not to a dysfunctional dad, not to a drunken rage…. He returned to love. The father was so happy his son was home. He was thrilled to have him back. He had come home.

Some of the wandering son’s suffering stemmed from his own choices. He chose wild living. He chose to spend all his money. But some of the suffering was because of where he happened to be in the moment. He was in the area that was affected by drought and famine. That wasn’t his fault or his choice. But it was suffering of an intense sort. It was the suffering that brought the boy to his senses. Suffering was the wake-up call he needed to turn home again, to return to his dad.

 If you have missed this series you may want to go back to the beginning. It is an excellent series with depth and challenge.

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