After my first semester of seminary, I went on a trip to visit Holocaust sites in Poland. One place that haunted me most was Belzec, an extermination camp where everyone sent there was stripped of their possessions and murdered by asphyxiation.
After the people who had been crammed into a gas chamber were all dead, workers of the camp would take the naked, lifeless bodies and bury them in mass graves located under the ground of this hill now covered with stones.
As I walked throughout the museum located at this site and around the perimeter of the hill, I spent a lot of time questioning God. “How could you allow this to happen?”
I spent a lot of time wondering about the thoughts of the fathers and mothers, helpless in saving their children. I could almost hear them praying, “Take me, not my children.”
I could imagine the children holding on to their mother’s hand, wondering, “What did I do wrong? What’s wrong with me? Does God not love us?”
Similarly, when we experience suffering here and now, in modern-day America, we likely ask similar questions.
When someone we trust and love breaks our heart, we ask God why this happened to us?
When a child we love is diagnosed with cancer, we beg God to take us, not that beloved child with such potential.
When we face disasters out of our control, we wonder if there was anything we could have done to prevent it from happening to us. Suffering is a great equalizer; we all experience it. Because we live in this broken world and we all have been given the gift of free will, there is always a possibility that we can experience suffering.
Can we find God in our suffering and, if so, where??
The psalmist of Psalm 102 finds the goodness of God and hope in suffering by knowing God is greater than any power found on earth:
“Long ago you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you endure; they will all wear out like a garment. You change them like clothing, and they pass away; but you are the same, and your years have no end.”
For the psalmist, suffering is temporary, but God is forever. We can confidently put our faith, hope, and trust in a God who is big enough to handle our feelings of anger, pain, and grief during our suffering.
I have learned that God can be found in the most obscure places of our suffering. In a phone call from an old friend at just the right time. God may show up in an encouraging card. God’s presence may be felt in a time of prayer. We can be reminded of God’s love by a warm hug. There is no limit to how God can show up in the most difficult of times.
At Belzec, God showed up in a picture.
A couple days after visiting Belzec, I looked through some of the photos I took at the site and noticed that somehow, I had captured a picture of a rainbow over the stones.
It was a reminder of the words found in Genesis 9:16 where, after the floodwaters during Noah’s days had subsided, God says: “When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”
Even in a place as terrible at Belzec, God was reminding me that no matter how dark this world may seem, no matter how terrible human beings can treat one another, and no matter how hopeless things may get, the hope and love we find in God can never be destroyed.
Suffering will never be the end of our story. Let us hold onto that promise today.
Rev. Patricia Lund is the Associate Pastor at Athens First United Methodist Church and Trinidad United Methodist Church. Please come by to worship with them if you are ever in the area.
Falling into the Psalms is brought to you by the Communications Department of the Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church..To be considered as a future blogger, please contact Shannon W. Martin, Director of Communication at firstname.lastname@example.org.