The other day I was once again astounded by the resources that the Gospel holds in resolving any dilemma. I rear-ended someone en route to work and it was entirely my fault. The deductible on my insurance is high and my vast undergrad student debt takes human form in the name “Sallie”. That lady calls when a payment is even a day late. They might as well have let Tina Fey name such an institution “Regina”*.
Sometimes I talk about my financial struggles or ask other young people about their situation. I universally receive a head bob and, “tons of people are in the same position.” But…whomever I am talking to is never one of them. Often I read about financially moribund Americans in The Economist and I hear Obama throw us a shout out in a news clip. As I do, I envisage each journalist or the president doing the head bob because I have no confidence that these people with prestigious jobs and salient answers suffer from the debacle they comment on. While I know other people are in the same predicament, I feel as though I am the only person who did not save for a rainy day.
Most days these thoughts aren’t so overtly burdensome. I know, of course, my worldly blessings of family and circumstance. I try to keep track of my personal blessings such that I can use them in God’s service. Most importantly, I have the gift of faith. The other day, however, even thinking self-congratulatory thoughts felt absurd. My introspection was personal and toxic. I hated the uniquely Mary Lovegood brand of troubles. My thoughts alternated between self-pity and self-loathing. No one walked in my shoes and yet anyone who did must be able to do it better.
I’m not as uniquely dramatic as you might think. Look closely and all humans suffer due to great and small things. They also feel isolated in their suffering, regardless of their relationship status. To get to the root of the problem, you must address the chasm that exists between the human heart and God. You must also recognize that feelings of pain and isolation are attendant symptoms of this chasm.
Jesus Christ need not have known such a chasm. He knows an infinite love and union with the Father and the Holy Spirit that is inconceivable to us. He chose, however, to endure the chasm and to bridge it for us. A cursory look at His death yields profound truth. We see Jesus tortured physically and emotionally, but His spirit does not bend. Then on the cross, with the full absence of the Father upon Him, He shrieks, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Though far more cataclysmic than anything most of us endure in the daily grind, this moment tells us quite a bit about the nature of suffering. Its substance is distance from God, its form is intensely spiritual, and its solution is Christ’s saving love.
So, one, the substance of suffering is distance from God. We suffer in the trivial – a car accident, gossip, etc. – but the Gospel shows us that these incidents are mere symptoms of a deeper problem. Two, the form of suffering is spiritual. Cerebrally, I know that my intense emotional reaction is more than a fender bender demands and that difficult financial situations are a dime a dozen. Knowing this or being told it doesn’t ever help anyone, though. Not really. The Gospel addresses suffering as a spiritual dearth, making it a far deeper and more effective balm. The Gospel addresses the illness, not the symptoms. Third, the solution is Christ’s saving love. I am saved and it is not for measures of success or failure. I am not alone because Jesus too knows what distance from God feels like. And he loves me enough that he was glad to save me. He came to Earth and shared in our agonizing distance from the Father that we might enter the Kingdom of Heaven and share in a euphoric union with Him. With that knowledge I can be at peace as I work to balance my finances. What good news.
*A reference to the immortal classic Mean Girls.