One of the most painful memories from my pre-Christian days is the hollowed-out feeling that came from believing life had no meaning. Without meaning, nothing matters—not beauty nor bravery nor joy; not suffering nor sadness nor love. There is nothing to strive for, plan for, hope for. To live in a world without meaning is to live as a lonely atom in a vast universe of nothingness.
But that picture of the universe changed the moment I began to suspect the old story I had learned as a child—the one about God making the world and then sending his Son to save it—might actually be true. It was shocking, the idea that God felt impelled by love to come to earth and die for my sins. That he subverted death by his powerful sacrifice. Suddenly I had a big story to believe in, one that gave meaning to my life.
Sometimes we lose our peace because we lose our place in the big story God is writing. Perhaps we once saw ourselves right in the center of it, knowing he loved us, believing he had called us to serve him. But then disasters unfolded. Disappointments happened. Suffering ensued. What then?
Miroslav Volf points out that inner healing is advanced “by integrating remembered wrongdoing into our life-story. . . . We integrate events into our life-story by giving them positive meaning within that story.”(1) So the person who has been abused may discover insights that will later assuage the suffering of others. Or the abandoned spouse may find strength in his or her relationship with God that they hadn’t thought possible. Finding meaning in what we have suffered is not something that can be engineered or controlled. Rather it is something that God can do in us and for us as we wait for his healing grace.
(1) Miroslav Volf, The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2006), 76.