Thursday, 7 April 2011
Beauty and brokenness
I don't watch many of those quasi- documentary programmes that focus on the extreme and sensational. I try to steer clear of titles such as "Fat kids camp", "Britain's most embarrassing body parts" or "World's ugliest people" as I worry that they pander to the freak show streak in human nature. I do think that they are almost purely entertainment and I am not sure that we learn much from them - other than perhaps that it is inadvisable to gorge on pizza and chips around the clock - and most of us knew that without having to watch a 60 stone man winched out of bed. Last night, however, I did sit and watch an episode of "Katie Piper, my beautiful friends" and, although I had all the usual reservations, I was moved by the story of twenty five year old Amit who suffers from neurofibromatis.
Amit's condition is incurable and since he was a little boy he has undergone many operations to de-bulk the tumours on his face, which will never stop growing. At 14 Amit's left eye had to be removed, damaged irrevocably by the tumours. He now has a prosthetic eye in its place. His father, who was an inspiration to him and always called him "the brave boy", died last year. Amit said, "I think he was the one who taught me to be brave." Close to the end of the programme Amit saw his spinal surgeon who told him that a curvature of his spine needed to be operated on - and that this operation might well leave him in a wheelchair and incontinent. Amit went very still as though he was concentrating and steadying himself, but he received the news calmly, only saying later at the bus stop, "I sometimes wonder why I don't cry", briefly mentioning that he sometimes wonders "why me?"
Many of those who face the most extreme difficulties often do so with a phlegmatic courage that I find inspiring. I am not suggesting for one moment that that is true of everyone who faces extreme adversity, but it often seems to be. I sometimes wonder if there is something in extremity itself which allows those reserves of courage, resilience and wisdom to be released and if there is something in ease and comfort that makes us complacent, expecting life to hand us everything we ask for? It made me think of that text in Romans, that suffering brings perseverance and perseverance brings character. I think it then goes on to say that character brings hope - I am not so sure about that one and may need to ponder it a little longer!
The idea that suffering is somehow good for the soul can take us into dangerous territory - it is only surpassed by the idea that God chastises those he loves as one of the most detestable and smug ideas ever peddled. Suffering is usually just bloody awful and not much fun or good for us at all, if that is love, you can keep it! I never know how to respond in any rational or coherent way to the theological problems raised by the brutal fact of suffering - and so much suffering - in human existence. I've experienced some suffering in life, though not on the scale that someone like Amit has, and I find my greatest solace in promises of comfort, such as that line in Deuteronomy that "underneath are the everlasting arms", or the promise in Revelation that "every tear will be wiped away", or in Jeremiah that God has "plans to give us a future and a hope."
The lines above express love, and when we are faced with suffering, honesty and acceptance and love seem very precious. I know this goes very little way towards providing any sort of answer to the problem of why a loving God would allow suffering, but if anyone has a better one then please tell me!