Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Awful grace

Our gathering word in unprogrammed worship on Sunday came from the ancient Greeks. Aeschylus wrote, “He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.”
In the silence, I wrote two questions in my notebook: 1) Is suffering an inevitable ingredient of the kind of learning that leads to wisdom? And, 2) Is wisdom the inevitable result of suffering?
I think the answer to both questions is “no.”
Life testifies that suffering can, indeed, result in wisdom. But delight and great joy also provide a path for learning. As a young person preparing for a career in teaching, I memorized a paraphrase of one of Solomon’s proverbs: “A wise teacher makes learning a joy.” That became my aim (if not always my reality) as a high school teacher.
As to the second question—Is wisdom the inevitable result of suffering?—I observe that while suffering can lead to wisdom, it sometimes ends up as bitterness.
Maybe it depends on the attitude of the sufferer.
Maybe it depends on the awful grace of God.

Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner. Let my sufferings today, large and small, lead to wisdom. Make me tender, not witty. Amen.

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