One of the challenges presented to Christianity most often is the question of how a good God can allow people to suffer. That’s a question that entire books have been written about, so I’m not going to answer it. What I am going to talk about is why I’m still a Christian despite what I’ve gone through with endometriosis. This post isn’t intended to be an attempt to convert anyone or to lecture on how all you sinful types need to clean up your acts to be magically healed, nor is it an attempt to ignore the realities of chronic illness and suggest faith will magically make it ok. It will not. This is just my personal experience on having faith in the midst on a chronic illness.
I’ve already talked about my experiences with endometriosis here. They aren’t great, and I can see how someone going through that may well feel that no loving God could put them through that. I have often wondered, “Why me? What did I do to deserve this?”
I suppose whether I deserve it really depends on your view of justice. I mean, overall I’m not a bad person, but I have my vices. I think rude things about people, and far too often those things make it out of my mouth in the form of gossip. Thinking bad things may be a victimless crime (although the Bible makes it clear that’s it is still totally wrong and you need to change your mindset if you do it) but gossiping definitely isn’t. I also covet my neighbour’s possessions on a regular basis, and haven’t always respected my parents. I’ve missed opportunities to give or help, sometimes deliberately, even when I could have done it. So, I definitely haven’t done anything that would suggest I warrant a perfect life.
However, that’s not how Christianity works. Jesus made it very clear that even good lives were going to be full of suffering; in fact, those the modern church considers the very best Christians, such as Paul, went through some truly horrific experiences. Most of the disciples were jailed, killed or both. Just look at Job as an example of a really good man, loved by God, enduring some bad stuff (spoiler: literally his entire family dies). Meanwhile, Herod, who ordered the massacre of Jewish children and babies (recorded also by the Jewish historian Josephus) lived a long, wealthy and powerful life (although did apparently die an excruciating death). Anyway, the moral of the story is that what you go through in life is not a reflection of what you deserve, so I can rest easy that my pain is not connected to any action or failure on my part.
So, God didn’t cause my suffering. On the other hand, He hasn’t stopped it either, despite many prayers from my family and even my heathen husband. I trust that God has the power to heal me, so not doing so is an active choice. Why? I don’t know. I’m not God (thank goodness. Sounds like a horrible job). The Bible is also very clear that we often won’t know God’s reason, and that’s fine; it’s part of having faith. Maybe there is a lesson I am supposed to learn from it that will transform me into a better person and a better Christian. More likely, I think, is that this world is not a fair place, and part of the burden and challenge of our lives is dealing with that. I don’t think it is a test to see how well I cope; it is just what it is. We all face different problems. Mine happens to be endometriosis.
And even though I don’t have hope for the immediate future that everything is going to magically get better, I do have hope for my long-term future. Very long-term. As in when I die. One of my favourite Christian authors is C S Lewis, and I love his quote from The Great Divorce:
That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. ..And that is why, at the end of all things, when the sun rises here…the Blessed will say “We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven.
Revelations 21:4 seems to agree: “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”
In my last post, I wrote that the lessons I have learned from endo are not worth the pain. Heaven doesn’t make it “worth it” either, because heaven is not the consequence of having endured the pain well or something. It releases you into a a blissful, healing glory so intense that every pain you have every suffered is wiped away.
So, I don’t think I’ve done anything wrong, and I don’t think God is being deliberately mean by not healing me. He does answer my prayers in other ways, by giving me strength, courage, and patience when mine is failing. Moreover, I think that when I cry, He is crying with me. This is the God that loved the world so much that He sent his own son to die for humankind even when we had collectively turned away and abandoned him on a pretty regular basis since the beginning. The God of Christianity is not one that revels in my pain or who is indifferent to it. I believe in a God who is just as shattered as I am at what I have to endure. In a perfect world, that’s not how He would have my life be, but this isn’t a perfect world.
One thing that the Bible constantly emphasises is how much God loves us, cares for us, and will not abandon us. I particularly love Isaiah 43:2: “When you go through deep waters, I will be with you.” Even if everyone else in my life gets sick of me and kicks me to the curb, there is nothing I can do that will ever drive God away, and no suffering He is not willing to endure with me. For more verses on God’s presence in our pain check out this very pretty list.
Finally, while I’ve used male pronouns for God throughout this piece, that’s mostly just because it is the habit of a lifetime. I don’t think God is male or female or anything in between. I think he embodies everything we could ever think about gender. (Organisations like Junia and Christians for Biblical Equality get much more detailed and scholarly than me on that point). Certainly, even in the Bible, He is not afraid to use “female” metaphors. In Isaiah 66:13 He says “I will comfort you as a mother comforts her child.” (For a full list of similar metaphors check out the Women’s Ordination Conference). This makes me feel much closer to God during the depths of a flare-up than it would if God could only possibly be male. I don’t mean this to exclude transmen, who are absolutely males who understand endo, but cis-men are simply not going to – they can sympathise, but this is a pain they will just never experience. It is a pain unique to uteruses. While I don’t think God has a uterus, conceptualising God as not-male helps me think, “Yes, God gets it too.”
- Endo is not a punishment from God;
- God is not causing my endo;
- God still answers my prayers in other ways;
- On entering into heaven, this will all be wiped away;
- God loves me, cries with me, and feels my pain.
None of this makes my endo any less painful. That’s not the point of it. It just means that my faith is not made any harder.
If you’d like to read some far more coherent thoughts than mine by people who actually dedicate their entire blogs to this subject, head on over to The Glorious Table, Hope in the Healing, Emily Ryan (formerly Emily Lofgren), Life in Slow Motion, or Inkblots of Hope.
I would love to hear the thoughts of any other religious endo-warriors out there, regardless of what you believe in. Have you had doubts about your faith because of your pain? What keeps you strong in your dark moments? Let me know in the comments below. I’d also love to hear if anyone from another faith would like to consider a guest post about the interaction of their faith and their illness.