Why is it so important to think in Both-Ands?
There is a billboard for St. Jude’s, an organization that fights childhood cancer, around the corner from my office. I hate it, just as I hate all of St. Jude’s commercials. I shudder when I see them.
I don’t hate St. Jude’s, far from it; they are doing God’s work in the world. I just hate and loathe the reality of children suffering. It disturbs me. It sends my brain to dark places.
There is a famous scene in The Brothers Karamazov in which Ivan uses the suffering of children to question his brother Alyosha’s faith in God. I can relate to the doubt and the questioning that such suffering, if we are honest, can’t but make us feel. Who among us has not, at some point, found themselves shaking their head or their fist at God, The Universe, Life, over our pain or the pain of another. Why do the stars seem to give no answer? And where is God in the midst of it?
This has often been my perspective on life. Part of my problem—and our problem, no doubt--is that we have been trained in an Either-Or world and are thus accustomed only to look for God the All-Powerful. But this perspective can also greatly skew our senses so that nothing about life makes sense, because how can God the All-Powerful look upon all this heart-rending mess of suffering and do nothing?
But there is a different perspective, too. And perhaps a different reality.
If I hate this suffering--if I cannot stand to see children suffering--how much more does God, who is all Love and Goodness, hate it? Far more than me, no doubt. Can you imagine what God the All-Feeling endures? No doubt Jesus is still crucified by the pain and suffering and death of our world, despite our confident hope that both already and ultimately, he has and will overcome it. Rather than shaking my first at God, I can begin to see, from this new perspective, that God is not only the All-Powerful but also the All-Vulnerable, suffering with those in pain. That, what’s more, He is suffering far more than me. And further, that I am instance and picture of His suffering, though only in part. God ever suffers with us and with the broken, the poor, and the marginalized. No doubt this is why the poor in spirit are not far from the Kingdom of God.
What difference does this make? Well, quite a bit, actually. The deepest human need is communion, with others and with God, and just as we cannot have much affection with someone who does not care for us in our pain, so it will be very difficult to rely on a real connection with God if we do not know that He suffers with us. In times of suffering, this hope must be a concrete knowing and not a theoretical hope.
Further, from this perspective, I can realize that God is with me in an intimate way with a goal far greater than just giving me a comfortable life. That is not God’s agenda in the world and, indeed, by the ways He has limited Himself in order to sustain a real universe, He cannot do this. A Being of infinite Love must have one aim in mind—what is well and truly good for me and you, eternally speaking. And the path towards eternal communion becomes lost if God is content to let me settle for the ephemeral comfort of youth or wealth or merely human power which do nothing for my ultimate good.
When I can see not only God the All-Powerful but also God the All-Vulnerable, the God who suffers still, then I can find real comfort and solace in the midst of pain, even if the pain is not immediately ending. I can trust that there are eternal ends being worked into the deepest fabric of my soul, which will shine resplendent far after the suffering has passed. This is, in fact, exactly what Paul the Apostle says: that God, in essence, is suffering with the world and that “the sufferings of this present age are not worthy to be compared to the glory that will be revealed” in those who trust Him.
None of this means that God causes suffering. And yes, for our sakes, He hates it. But God has, strange as it sounds, agreed to “play by a certain set of rules.” He has truly made Himself the All-Vulnerable. Of course, if Jesus is the picture of God, then this should never have been in doubt, as the scripture goes to great lengths to get us clear on God’s posture in the world.
Let us look then, not only for God the All-Powerful but also for God the All Vulnerable, and worship this reality of His character and Being as much as we worship Him for His power. This is yet another Both-And for us to hold, and perhaps the most important. Let us, further, be bold to enter into his work in the world. Of joining with the suffering of the world, knowing that “if we suffer with him, we will also reign with him.”
 Matthew 5:3
 See Romans 8, and especially v 18.
 E.g., Philippians 2:7-8.
 2 Timothy 2:12.