I watched as they gracefully walked across the freshly fallen snow. A fawn pranced ahead of the group, bounding into the air effortlessly and landing softly upon the powder. They came to the edge of the field and stopped, cautiously listening for any sound of danger. Slowly, they walked into the field in front of my in-law’s country home and approached the deer feeder. They then began feeding on the dried corn spread across the frozen ground. A fire roared in the fireplace to my right, crackling and popping and sizzling with warmth and energy, and I enjoyed the serene beauty of nature - the life before me, around me, beside me. Alisa slept peacefully on the ottoman next to me, tummy full from her first morning meal.
But then, the deer froze. Their muscles taut, their ears back, listening, waiting. They turned toward the line of trees and paused, ready to bound into the safety of cover if the need arose. After a few moments of intense listening, they went back to grazing in the field. This cycle continued as the deer ate, occasionally freezing in acute alertness as they searched for any sign of danger. Go on, little deer, it’s ok. There is no danger here, I urged in my thoughts. I knew they were safe, but the deer did not. “Skittish little animals, aren’t they?” I asked my husband between sips of hot coffee. We both stared out the window.
“It’s how they survive,” he shrugged matter-of-factly.
I understand that, I thought. And the morning rolled on lazily…
In reality, it’s all part of the natural ebb and flow of life. For a brief moment, life seems beautiful, ethereal, perfect. A romance sizzles; a new baby is born; or a dream job is seized. Deer graze peacefully in a meadow of freshly fallen snow. It doesn’t take long, however, for the reality of sin and brokenness to enter into the picture. Relationship conflict arises; the baby has colic; the job is less than ideal. The deer instinctively sense that the predator may be lurking right beyond the tree line. Just underneath the surface of idealistic contentment, reality enters in and reminds us all that this is a broken and fallen world. Andy Byers, the former campus minister of my alma mater, describes it well in this article.
Whether we admit it to ourselves or not, we all want to believe that perfection is achievable. The meadow of freshly fallen snow, the fairytale marriage, the perfect job. "If only I can lose this much weight," we think. "If only I could earn this much money a year," we reason. And so the striving continues, the wrestling for this ever-elusive ideal we desire, we need. It is an inborn longing, this automatic striving for paradise lost. But the truth of the matter is that outside of the saving, redemptive power of Jesus Christ, perfection will only ever be a facade. As the writer of Ecclesiastes proclaims, "I observed everything going on under the sun, and really, it is all meaningless - like chasing after the wind" (Ecc. 1:14, NLT). Reality is that not every illness is preventable. Loss, poverty, and heartbreak will always be a part of this world. Physical death will come.
"Why are you going over something so obvious?" you might think. “Yes, this world is broken. Yes, terrible things happen. We get that...but why?”
But you see, I don't think we really do see the brokenness and awfulness of this world. That, or we refuse to truly accept it as reality. In his book The Question That Never Goes Away, Philip Yancey describes ours as a "pain-denying, death-defying culture" (58). After all, who wants to remember that people break promises, that natural disasters happen, and that we are all one day closer to our deaths? It seems much more preferable to pursue our dreams and continue hoping that one day, somehow, this or that thing will make us ultimately happy.
I learned the other day that early in our pregnancy, when we were still waiting to find out the exact chances of Alisa having Down syndrome, someone commented to my family member that she believed all pregnancies of babies with Down syndrome should be terminated. One of her rationales for this belief was that the parents “would be stuck with the child for life.” My initial reaction to learning this was disbelief and heartbreak. How could anyone even say such a thing out loud?
As I have thought over her words, though, (and this is not the first time I’ve heard such reasoning), I am even further convinced that we fail to see this world for what it is. Because of this, we find ourselves residing in a morally bankrupt society that not only encourages but praises the line of thinking, “You do what is best for you.” None of us is exempt from falling to this faulty thinking. Unfortunately, decisions based on this belief are usually self-centered and driven by a desire for pleasure over pain, leading to statements such as these:
I just can’t handle caring for a special-needs child. I will terminate this pregnancy.
He doesn’t love me, and this marriage only drains me. I am divorcing him.
I could never give the child back. I just become too attached. I will not become a foster parent.
The refugee will take from my security, my resources, and my comfort. I will not accept him into my home.
The problem is that this represents a fundamental misunderstanding of what this life is all about. Before we can begin to explore the issues of pain and suffering and the “whys” of it all, we must allow ourselves to accept that this world will never be perfect. Like the deer I observed on that cold December morning who grazed peacefully while also being alert to their surroundings, we must recognize that pain, suffering, and tragedy are a part of the fabric of this sin-stained world, even as joy, beauty, and momentary happiness are, as well. I am not suggesting an unhealthy, paralyzing fear that tragedy is lurking behind every corner. After all, even the deer graze in open fields. Yet we must come to a place of surrender, where we stop striving to find in this world an ever-elusive perfect life that is void of any pain.
As genuine Christians, we have the responsibility, the opportunity - the privilege, even - to see this world for what it really is. Whether or not we agree with God’s reasoning, when He sent Jesus Christ to this world to forge a way for redemption, He did not immediately do so by making everything perfect. Ultimately, death has been defeated, but currently, death is still with us (2 Tim. 1:10; 1 Cor. 15:24-26). We must not expect from this life what it will never give us, namely fulfillment and freedom from suffering. The one who follows Christ, therefore, can face suffering with grace and assurance, knowing that the eternal purposes of Christ far outweigh the temporary pursuits of a broken world (2 Cor. 4:17). We join Christ in His sufferings by giving ourselves away, just He has already done for us. We take in the orphan, feed the hungry, give to the poor, and love the prisoner (Luke 4:14-21). The parents choose life in pregnancy, knowing that pain, suffering, and loss may come in the form of a disabled or terminally-ill child. The husband or wife stays in a broken marriage, committing to love even the most unloveable of spouses. The church gives away large amounts of its resources to the neediest of its community, embracing the gospel-mission that might mean less numerical growth, fewer earthly accolades, and a smaller church building.
With eyes that see, we show a world desperate for happiness and perfection that this life will never satisfy. As the wise man said, such strivings are meaningless (see Ecclesiastes). Instead, we embrace suffering in spite of ourselves, because we know that there is more to this life than blindly pursuing happiness while ignoring the reality of suffering. We understand that we are not exempt from the awfulness around us.
With eyes that see, we acknowledge that a Sovereign God must have a reason He did not already wipe out all of the suffering and brokenness that continues to plague our world. And so even as we ask “why,” we turn our eyes upward to Him and wonder at the meaning of it all. Perhaps He knows that there is something more valuable to us in this life than a world free of suffering. May He give us eyes that see.