Redeeming Pain

There is more than enough tragedy and suffering to go around. Instant global communication has compounded the impact. For example, outrage at the killing of Jesuit Father Frans van der Lugt in Syria yesterday ricocheted around the world within 24 hours. Such moral outrage is necessary and important – but it can be numbing. All the more reason to celebrate healing, success and grounds for hope!

Thanks to a friend from the Minnesota International Center who shared a [link] to a really powerful piece about forgiveness and reconciliation in Rwanda. Stunning photos accompany disarming profiles of human anguish and triumph – a testimony to healing and hope for what is possible within a generation of the horrific genocide in which 1 million Rwandans were killed.

We have witnessed such reconciliation and reason for hope before. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission chaired by Archbishop Desmond Tutu provided a mechanism for people to confess their participation in human rights abuses during apartheid and receive amnesty. Some argue that those responsible for the policies of apartheid should have been held criminally liable. But that is not the route chosen by the Nobel Peace laureate archbishop or President Nelson Mandela.

The moral genius of the TRC was the public airing of the painful truth which prevented the violence of apartheid from being buried in the past.  Rev. Marie Fortune warns on her [blog], the Shakespearian advice to “forgive and forget” is too often directed at victims and survivors of violence. “Forgiveness does not come from a position of powerlessness but from a place of empowerment and a degree of safety; forgiveness is never about forgetting the past, but in remembering the past in order to strengthen our efforts not to repeat it.” Justice requires truth-telling and remembering before forgiveness.  We see this in Rwanda.  And, as numbing as it can be, instant worldwide news reporting has the potential to serve this essential purpose.

Coincidentally, David Brooks has a marvelous piece in today’s NYTimes entitled “What Suffering Does” [link]. He is quick to point out, “there is nothing intrinsically ennobling about suffering. Just as failure is sometimes just failure (and not your path to becoming the next Steve Jobs) suffering is sometimes just destructive, to be exited as quickly as possible.” Yet, Brooks celebrates those transcendent survivors who have the capacity to understand their suffering in some larger providence:

It’s at this point that people in the midst of difficulty begin to feel a call. They are not masters of the situation, but neither are they helpless. They can’t determine the course of their pain, but they can participate in responding to it. They often feel an overwhelming moral responsibility to respond well to it. …  

The right response to this sort of pain is not pleasure. It’s holiness. I don’t even mean that in a purely religious sense. It means seeing life as a moral drama, placing the hard experiences in a moral context and trying to redeem something bad by turning it into something sacred.

Recovering from suffering is not like recovering from a disease. Many people don’t come out healed; they come out different. 

Martyrdom in Syria, the hard work of reconciliation in Rwanda, requisite remembering with truth-telling of Marie Fortune, suffering’s ennobling potential cited by David Brooks… wherever we look a world in anguish invites us – desperately needs us – to embrace the paschal drama of Holy Week.

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