In preparing for this past Sunday's sermon at Saint Michael's Church in Marblehead, I found the opening verse of the psalm claiming my attention: How long, O LORD? will you forget me for ever? how long will you hide your face from me? How rare is it for us to get that honest about our suffering. We live is a culture which is suffering-averse, a society in which the expected answer to "How are you?" is "Fine."
In God and Human Suffering the Canadian theologian Douglas John Hall points out that in the Genesis accounts of Creation there is suffering, even before the Fall. Humans suffer from loneliness, limitations, temptations, and anxiety. In fact, without these sources of suffering, we would not be able to recognize the blessings of friendship, the joy of personal growth within the inherent limits of our humanity, the maturity that comes from resisting temptation, or the peace that comes from entrusting our anxious minds to God. Such suffering is unavoidable, but far from being the ultimate reality for us. Neither is the suffering that comes after the Fall - the fratricide of Cain and all the injustices and atrocities that have followed.
To find our way to experiencing the ultimate reality of the One who chooses to be God only in relationship with us, to be Immanuel, God with us, we need to be honest about our own suffering. We need to learn again the value of lament, the value of beating down the doors of heaven with our cries of "How long...?" We can never be in solidarity with those who suffer more conspicuously in our world until we are honest - at least with God, if not with those closest to us - about our own sufferings. We cannot be the wounded healers that the world needs if we keep denying our own wounds.
Later on Sunday I discussed the sermon with a close friend who is a psychiatrist. He asked if I thought many of my colleagues would have preached such a sermon. Perhaps there would not be many, just as in our wider society it seems that psychiatrists are among the few who are willing to face the reality of our suffering. Perhaps aversion to suffering still has the upper-hand and that we continue to be in denial about the impossibility - and undesirability -of a suffering-free world. But maybe, just maybe, the myth of endless progress has lost its allure and we can dare to be honest about the suffering that is inherent in human life and have the courage to relieve the unjust suffering that so many have to endure.
The Good News of Immanuel was lived out by one who was acquainted with suffering, who embraced our humanity, suffering and all. And we who are called to bear witness to that Good News are also called to embrace our own humanity, suffering and all.