MLK, Suffering, and Meaning
Cherie Harder

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

By any measure, these are times of deep and widespread suffering. More than 500,000 people have died from Covid since the pandemic struck. More than 100 mass shootings (defined as those resulting in four or more people injured or killed, not counting the perpetrator) have occurred since the start of the year. New wounds of injustice have been inflicted or exposed. Civic fissures have grown deeper and more toxic.

Against such a backdrop, I was struck by the conviction of Martin Luther King, Jr. who was asked by his editor at the Christian Century to reflect on his own suffering. King responded:

“Some of my personal sufferings over the last few years have also served to shape my thinking…. As my sufferings mounted I soon realized that there were two ways that I could respond to my situation: either to react with bitterness or seek to transform the suffering into a creative force. I decided to follow the latter course. Recognizing the necessity for suffering I have tried to make of it a virtue. If only to save myself from bitterness, I have attempted to see my personal ordeals as an opportunity to transform myself and heal the people involved in the tragic situation which now obtains. I have lived these last few years with the conviction that unearned suffering is redemptive.

There are some who still find the cross a stumbling block, and others consider it foolishness, but I am more convinced than ever before that it is the power of God unto social and individual salvation. So like the Apostle Paul I can now humbly yet proudly say, “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” The suffering and agonizing moments through which I have passed over the last few years have also drawn me closer to God. More than ever before I am convinced of the reality of a personal God.”

It is a response worth further contemplation. And this Friday, we are pleased to host author Philip Yancey and surgeon Julia Wattacheril to discuss “Suffering, Healing, and Meaning,” and wrestle with the meaning and transformative potential of pain. As King intimated, it is not a subject that lends itself to easy resolution, but one that calls with increasing urgency for attention and engagement. And while none of us are immune from its contagion, there is hope amidst the hardship: that God himself knows suffering, is with us in it, and often uses the rough, raw, and ugly materials of human frailty, fractiousness, and failure towards a new and beautiful creation.

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