The Truth About Suffering
“I will say, with memoir,” Elie Wiesel is quoted as saying, “you must be honest, you must be truthful.”
Jack Deere tells the truth in his new book Even in Our Darkness. Not merely about his own life, but about life.
Deere’s story is one of beauty in a broken life brimming with the kind of authenticity and realism, failure and fortitude, darkness and light we need to help us and others make sense of life in all of its trueness.
Under Deere’s guidance, truth—his truth, life’s truth—is “profoundly unmasked, unsettling, and unforgettable.” Beginning with the truth about suffering.
There were three insights I gleaned from his raw, harrowing account of life.
Suffering is Mysterious
Deere’s opening paragraph illustrates the truth of suffering's mystery with painful precision:
On the morning of December 31, 2000, I watched a white, cardboard coffin travel up a conveyor belt into the belly of a Boeing 757, along with the other baggage. The body in that coffin had belonged to my son. But he had loaned it out once too often. (11)
This episode of his son’s suicidal death was one in a full season of suffering, stemming all the way back to a childhood. At times he wept. At times he shook his fist at God in rage. Mostly he didn’t know what to do with it, like the time his son’s body sat in the luggage bay of a Delta Airlines 757:
For decades, I had preached that the mystery of suffering would always elude our understanding. It was an easy thing to say, until the weight of that mystery crushed me. I didn’t know how to get out from under it, except to flee to the place where I grew up. (14)
A wise seminary professor of mine taught that nothing connected to the fall makes sense, which is why suffering is so mysterious. Deere agrees, offers us a truth about suffering: it’s mysterious, its understanding mostly elusive; it doesn’t make sense.
It also self-replicates; suffering begets suffering.
This was true of Deere’s childhood, tilling a pathway littered with pain and regret, so that in one therapy session he said to his dead mother who “beat hell” in him: “Do you have any clue how screwed up we are because of you?” (254). Early childhood suffering begat later suffering.
So did his son’s suicide. Scott took his life, but the fallout stole life from others as the suffering compounded. Deere writes:
Once my life had a lofty purpose—to speak to churches and write books about God’s goodness so that people would want a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.
But Scott’s death robbed me of the story I had told myself to make sense of my life. I had nowhere to go and nothing to do.
I still got out of bed at dawn. But I didn’t know why. (229)
This fog of suffering would spread across his wife’s life, as well. A drinking problem turned into a drinking crisis, eventually landing her in the hospital.
It wasn’t only that Deere and his family suffered because of Scott’s choice. They also suffered because the suffering spread, robbing them of life and light.
Suffering Finds Mercy
And yet, in the midst of Deere's suffering “a voice spoke into my shock and confusion…Hold my hand” (14).
That hand of mercy, he explains, “was there, and always had been—guiding me through the rage-drenched home of my youth, thrusting a wrench into familial patterns of purposelessness and poverty, and blow by blow, destroying the illusion that I could earn the gifts it bears” (14).
Suffering is mysterious, suffering self-replicates. But what’s also true is that God is there, he is not silent, and his mercy finds us. An anecdote from Scott's suicide puts an exclamation point on this truth:
Two weeks after we buried him, the funeral bill arrived. It was $10,064.69. Thirty minutes later, my secretary walked in the room with a sack of mail. I dumped out thirty-eight sympathy cards and letters, which contained twenty-two checks—one for each year of Scott’s life.
I added them up. The total: $10,065.00, a few pennies above the cost of putting his body in the ground. I was stunned. I didn’t need the money. I still had plenty in the bank to pay for Scott’s funeral.
“What are you saying, God?” I asked.
The voice of mercy, the voice I had ignored for money, spoke to me through money. It said, 'I paid for his death. I also paid for his life. And I’ll pay for everything you ever need for as long as you live.' (330)
Reading Deere’s honest, true account of life will give you the wisdom you need to help people find beauty in the brokenness of life by understanding the truth of that brokenness, the truth of suffering. Because as Eric Metaxas argues: “this story is everyone’s story.”
In Even in Our Darkness, Deere helps us see the beauty of God through his unconditional love for us as he brings harmony to our broken stories of darkness and destruction.
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