As a vicar, people sometimes share experiences with me. These can be times of joy but sometimes they are much bleaker moments. I have recently had a number of those. It can be hard to know what to say, perhaps no words can be said; it is just enough to listen and be with the person in the pain. An equal challenge is what I then say to myself afterwards, as I reflect on what I have heard and hold it against my faith in a God who is love, a God who is trustworthy and in whom there is nothing but love.
This tension is as old as religious experience. The Bible and Christian thought give no easy answers. However, I can draw some pointers from those passages, especially in the Old Testament, where writers wrestle with the same dilemma that I face and throw the problem and their anger back to God, with a recognition that God also somehow feels their pain. This reaches its conclusion in the New Testament with Jesus, God who takes human form and suffers pain and death in our human world. This Sunday is Passion Sunday, when the church especially remembers this. Much scholarly energy has been spent on discussing what it means to say that God shares in suffering and if, how that helps; all I can say is that I stand alongside the mother I heard reflecting on the death of her handicapped daughter and who said “I can only worship a god who shares in suffering”.