In the face of the suffering we experience in our lives and see our world it is perfectly natural and fitting to ask “Why?” Our “Why?” however, needs to eventually evolve into a different kind of question.

Written by Rabbi Akiva Feinstein and Charles W. Sidoti, BCC,

Seldom does a week (or even a day or an hour) go by when we are not confronted with the question “Why?” Why are lives devastated by illness, hunger, and devastating loss? Why financial crisis, abusive and broken relationships? Why car wrecks and plane crashes? Why do children need to die? Our generation is also challenged by global “whys?” There are catastrophic natural phenomena:, hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, war, and events like 9/11, to name but a few. Tragedy eventually leaves its mark on all of us, and it is the cause of much suffering. To each of us, it seems that our own affliction is the most painful.

The modern world is a place of constant searching for answers, and very often answers are found. Yet for this most basic of questions there is no easy answer. Moses himself asked God, “Why?” and was told, “You will see my back, but my face may not be seen” (Exodus 33:23). This verse has been interpreted to mean that, as humans, we cannot possibly comprehend the events that unfold before our eyes because our lives on earth are but a split second in the evolution of the universe. The span of a human life is simply too brief to achieve any meaningful understanding of the ways of the universe. Just as we cannot judge a movie by arriving in the middle and leaving before the end, we cannot judge God’s master plan for us or for the world. It is only with the passage of significant amounts of time that we could hope to gather even a measure of illumination.

Yes, it is true that some measure of genuine wisdom can, and often does, come with age. However, that wisdom, when it comes, normally teaches us to abandon our personal need to understand why things happen. It helps us to allow ourselves to be led by the wisdom of God instead of relying upon our own understanding. With such wisdom the question “Why?” is still present, but it gets integrated into our lives in such a way that we are able to live with it. Its negative power is replaced by trust and the realization that we are not God. It is important to understand that if our only response to something bad occurring is to continually ask “Why?” insisting that we are made to understand the reason why God allowed it to happen; we run the risk of becoming bitter and cynical toward life. It is perfectly natural to ask “Why?” but our response needs to evolve from there if we are to grow spiritually.

It is common in Jewish study to seek clarification on any given subject by returning to the literal meaning of that concept in the Hebrew language. The Hebrew word for suffering is sevel. There are two other words that share the very same root, and yet have totally different meanings- sabal, porter, and savlanut, patience. The connection between these three words became very clear to me (Rabbi Feinstein) one day many years ago, when I was observing the activity at a busy outdoor marketplace in Jerusalem. A merchant finished with his day’s selling noticed that he could not carry home his large load of unsold wares and called upon the services of a sabal, a porter. To my surprise, I noticed that the porter was not upset at the vast amount of wares that he was being hired to carry. On the contrary, he was delighted. Instead of viewing the large load as a burden and a hard job, he seemed to be saying to himself that the heavier it was, the better, for he could charge a higher price.

It occurred to me then that our own suffering, if we could learn to accept it in some measure into our lives, could serve a similar purpose for us. Even as the sabal (the porter), cheerfully carried his heavy load knowing that he would be compensated, we can be buoyed by the knowledge that our sevel (our suffering) is not in vain. We can live with confidence that our suffering has a higher purpose and represents an opportunity for growth, even though that purpose and opportunity may not be apparent to us. Another helpful translation is found in the Hebrew word for crisis. The word ismashbir, which translates into English a birthing stone. This translation suggests that if we can learn to live with patience (in Hebrew, savlanut) turning our hearts to God, who is present in the midst of our crisis, new life can come forth.

Crisis always involves something over which we have little or no control. For example, we cannot control the harmful and destructive actions of those who unjustly wage war, murder or terrorize others. We cannot prevent extreme weather such as tornadoes, or other types of natural disasters from causing terrible devastation around the globe. Our response to crisis is something different: We control and choose how we will respond to these events. Our personal response to suffering is our responsibility, and we do have a choice.

I once heard it said that there is a greater question that presents itself in times of personal suffering and crisis. It is, “Now that this terrible thing has happened, what will my response be?” After asking “Why?” we need to eventually take the next step, asking, “What can I do to ease the suffering of those involved? What is the loving response?” How we choose to respond to situations is sometimes the only thing that is within our control.

You may be old enough to remember the very popular TV sitcom All in the Familyfrom the 1970’s. I recently watched a documentary about the making of the show. The producer, Norman Lear, was describing each character and how each personality was an important ingredient in the show’s success. When describing Archie Bunker’s wife Edith (Jean Stapleton), who was frequently referred to as a “dingbat” he commented that Edith always responded to a situation from “a place of love.” That is indeed a very accurate description of her character, and it provides an example from which we can learn. Edith always responded out of love to whatever the circumstance or crisis. The cynicism of Archie (Carroll O’Connor) was used to rub up against Edith’s innocence to create much of the humor of the show. Although she was referred to as a dingbat, Edith’s loving, honest, and innocent way of responding to situations was always shown to be right in the end. Perhaps she wasn’t a dingbat after all.

Edith always responded to situations from a place of love because she was filled with love. But we can, and often do, respond from other places, such as fear, jealousy, blind ambition, or resentment, if our inner space is occupied by any of these. That is why paying attention to what is going on inside us is so important. Whatever occupies our inner space, most of the time, will often be the place from which our responses come. It is important to ask God to help us welcome love, peace, tolerance, acceptance, and a healthy sense of justice into our hearts. In that way our response to personal crisis or the suffering of others will more often be born out of love and compassion. If we learn to pay attention to our inner world, what is going on inside of us, it will be a great help toward our goal of growing into the person God is calling us to become. Why God allowed this or that to happen will eventually become less important than the greater question, “How is God calling me to respond?”

Connecting Point: Our response to the suffering in this life, whether it is our own suffering or that of others, must eventually involve more than our asking the question “Why?” and insisting on an answer. Suffering is an unpleasant part of life, but it is, nevertheless, a part of life. If we can learn to accept suffering as a mystery in our life, not seeking it out, but rather allowing it to be a part of our experience, God will use it to bring about a newness of life within us. We will discover that, although in a different way from joy and happiness, the suffering that naturally comes our way has its part to play in our spiritual growth and in our becoming the loving person that God is calling us to be.

Prayer: Loving God, help me to welcome your spirit of love, patience, mercy, and kindness into my heart each day, so that I may more often respond out of these virtues to the suffering that I experience in my own life and the suffering that I see in the world. Give me the humility to accept that I may never fully understand the reason why bad things are permitted to happen. Instead of letting me despair over this lack of understanding, help me to place my trust and hope in you who make all things work for the good of those who love you. Amen.

_____

This article is an excerpt from “Living at God’s Speed, Healing in God’s Time” written by Charles W. Sidoti and Rabbi Akiva Feinstein. Visit my WordPress Home Page to learn more! https://sidoticharles.wordpress.com/

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s