I came across that viral picture of Drake, today, the little boy battling cancer in the USA.
My heart skipped a beat.
I wanted to leave the image, return to my cosy comfort-zone. I made myself look back. I made myself honour his bravery and his suffering by reading his story.
Such images, such stories, break through comfortable Christianity. They force me to confront the reality of the world. Such stories rescue us from easy answers to the big questions, the questions that have stumped philosophers through the ages. There can be no neat answer to such an appalling tragedy.
If I’m honest, such an image makes my faith skip a beat.
My belief system is thrown into context. What does a poor carpenter from a forgotten corner of the world have to do with Drake? With the suffering in Yemen? With anyone broken and sad and in pain and having lost everything?
It seems unbelievable suddenly. Does God really care? Is there even a God, if such things are allowed to be?
I think through the alternatives: there is no God. Then there is no question. Suffering is not a problem, it just is. Cancer has no higher meaning. It is just part of this cycle of living and dying that will continue ad infinitum. If you are lucky enough to have avoided bad genes or contagion then enjoy yourself and spare a thought for those whose lives are soaked in suffering. This is all they have.
Other religions … with other gods sometimes suffering is repayment. I must have done something terrible to deserve this. I must redeem myself by doing better. What a terrible burden to bear.
With God … I am not sure God provides an answer to suffering. I suspect because no answer would satisfy. Who is going to listen and then go, “Oh sure, ok; I understand. That’s why my little boy can’t eat and is having to take poison daily. I see now, it’s ok.”
Everything in us resists suffering. We know, deep inside, that this is not meant to be.
I prayed for Drake. I prayed for his mother. I didn’t know what to pray – I have never had to watch my sons suffer so much. It’s unimaginable. I suddenly realised that God knows. He watched his son, his only son, be beaten and bruised. He watched him cry out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
So as I prayed for Drake’s mother I realised, God can comfort her. He knows. He knows what she is going through, to watch helpless while her son suffers. And Jesus knows what Drake is going through. He knows what it feels to be in pain, to want it to stop, to think you cannot go on, but to keep on breathing anyway.
His arms are open wide, so that if Drake’s medication fails he can step into those welcoming arms and be free from pain and suffering. His arms are wide open, so that if Drake’s medication works, that little boy can run to him for comfort and help on the days when it’s unbearable, and know that one day he can be strong and live for the one who did die.
This is something offered by no other religion, a God, transcendent and holy, yet who knows pain. Who has walked my road, and walks it with me. Who has drunk the cup of suffering to its dregs.
This doesn’t answer the philosophical question, I know that. But it offers something I find nowhere else. Suffering alone is probably the worst thing imaginable. Jesus suffered alone, so that he could stand by me when I suffer.