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“What now, God?”

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Pain. Suffering. Despair. Sorrow.

What follows is a seemingly natural reaction. Many people, myself included, shake fists at the sky and turn to God with an emphatic “Why?”

Interference in a once-seamless flow of customary life brings to the surface anger, disappointment, confusion, and perhaps for the first time, honesty with God.

Instead of the “Why?” however, I was recently challenged to confront suffering in a different way after attending a speaking event in Winnipeg, featuring best-selling author and pastor Rob Bell of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Mich.

“I’m less interested in why suffering happens, than in what we should do next,” Bell told a crowd of about 800 at the Burton Cummings Theatre in late August.

Rather than seeing suffering as detrimental, scarring, and damaging, Bell suggested it brings out an “art-set” that helps us deal with the “what now” in a tangible way.

There’s the art of disruption that shapes us and forms us by making us confront pain; the art of honesty that, in a healthy way, forces us to express what we truly feel; the art of elimination that reveals the shallow and trivial for what it is, stripping it away and uncovering what really matters.

There’s also the art of solidarity in realizing that through the incarnation, God knows how we feel on some unfathomable level, and finally, the art of failure that takes in stride the broken pieces for what they are – a part of a grander scheme and a larger puzzle.

Overall, Bell’s message was clear: none get to God but through trouble.

“There’s greatness in you. Sometimes it takes suffering to find it,” he concluded.

“What every artist must learn is that every failed piece is essential.”

Mike Duerksen is a student at CMU and attends North Kildonan MB Church, Winnipeg.

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