On Tuesday I went surfing. Well, when I say surfing, I mean I paddled around in the water attempting not to get too destroyed by the waves and left with a sunburnt face, and hair filled with funky smelling seaweed.
I had the time of my life—swimming in one of the most beautiful countries in the world, floating in the vast ocean, and revelling in the beauty of the enormity of everything.
My surfing partner and I had such a good time we decided the day was too beautiful to pass up, and we went back out to give the waves another go, jumping in for our second surf of the day. It was almost as amazing as the first—our skills slightly dampened by the lunch we had just devoured.
On our drive home we came down a hill and looked over the ocean at a nearby beach: the surfers were out and the waves looked amazing. The sun was beginning to go down and we decided—even though we had already been smashed by the waves twice today, and we were tired, and (slightly) sore—to go for our third surf.
Some moments in life go beyond beauty, sitting in another realm of amazing, where you feel a sense of awe beyond the here and now—these moments stick with us forever.
This was one of those moments: where the ocean was gentle, yet strong. Where the sun was setting, and the last moments of warmth from the day lingered. Where it felt as though there was God sitting right next to us, tenderly gifting this moment.
In moments like this it is difficult to deny the existence of the divine; difficult to deny the existence of the other. Difficult to pretend like there is no God.
Yet, the longer I sat the more I started to feel the pain in my back from a day of surfing, the sunburn on my face, and the coolness of the sun setting. I began to linger in the painful side of life.
Before I knew it I was reflecting on all the pain in my body, and that lead me to the pain in the world, and that lead me to asking questions of this God above, and quickly I was questioning where my faith fitted into this pain—where was God in the pain? How could I reconcile my faith with the knowledge that pain is only a physical reminder of the pain in both my life, and in the world?
I know a lot of people like this—who once believed in God, found hope, life, and faith in Jesus, and held onto the beauty connecting humanity.
Then these people started to see the pain in their lives, began to feel hurt by people or things. Maybe they were treated badly by a parent, or a friend, or a religious leader, and got stuck with this pain.
Then this pain pointed them towards the larger pain in the world: hunger, hurt, war, disease, corruption... and they got lost again in the pain of it all. The more they reflected on the pain, and suffering, the more they questioned the God above. Until finally they could no longer reconcile the two stories, and concluded that if God were real he would fix all of this pain.
Revelation in pain
Is this God works? CS Lewis says 'God whispers to us in our pleasure, and shouts at us in our pain'. What I see is a God who gives us experiences of beauty—undeniable, so we cannot help but become struck by awe—leading us to conclude that the world is at the core good, and beautiful. Yet, this isn't how he reveals himself most explicitly, I see God revealing himself most explicitly through our pain.
When we experience pain in the physical or emotional, pain that points to the larger pain, the suffering (or human condition) that connects all humanity together. We see the fallenness that we cannot seem to escape and we long for perfection, we long for restoration, we long for salvation.
Within these moments we discover an aspect of God within us, we discover a piece of the divine nature bursting forth into our lives, and we discover a holy discontent within our souls. This is one of the most pure, and God-inspired aspects of our humanity. When we understand ourselves to be—in these moments—to be displaying an aspect of God within us, it is here that we see God most explicitly expressed.
Pain does not show a God who does not care, but a God who created us to care—just like him! We are all created in the image of God, with divine responsibilities; we can choose to listen to them, and see God, or we can ignore them and blame God. Nietzsche says 'to live is to suffer; to survive is to find meaning in the suffering'. I choose to find God revealing himself to me within the suffering.
Tim Shallard a co-director of Mosaic Workshop a shared creative space in central Auckland. He also works in a café, studies theology at Carey Baptist College, runs a poetry collective. His passions include coffee, community, and people living the dream.
Tim Shallard's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/tim-shallard.html