Inside The Hard Road project
by Vanessa J. Chandler (co-author of The Hard Road)
When I set out to write Michael Pruett’s survival story that resulted in his new dramatized biography, The Hard Road, [i] I struggled with a theological question that has plagued the human race for millennia: Why did God spare this one life and not the lives of so many others? What about all those stories that end without hope? Where was God then?
In some religious circles, pain is unavoidable, and suffering is what God uses to teach us about humility. Pain has also caused many to turn away from the Church, or worse, faith in God. We have only to reflect on the martyrs of the early and modern Christian church, territorial conquests and resulting slavery, or the attempted annihilation of the Jews to see that true horror stories exist, that injustice is a reality. As C.S. Lewis said brilliantly in The Problem of Pain, "Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself." [ii]
Recently while visiting New York, I happened to enter the subway for a long ride from Long Island to Manhattan. I could not help but people-watch considering the fascinating company that also rode the train that day. One particular person, though, caught my interest most, and after having encountered him, I found myself changed for better.
He was a traveling salesman, yet he didn’t have slicked back hair. Neither was he wearing a pressed suit. He was quite obviously homeless, and carried a duffle bag stuffed full of sandwiches and other delectable items that any audience might want. In his short sales speech, he caught my eye and I politely declined. When no one else seemed interested either, he smiled still. Then he said the words that have stayed with me since, “God is good—all the time!” I found myself passing him several dollar bills to affirm his words. I can still see him in my mind today.
How is it that a homeless person with a sane mind, yet also who is close to destitution, can sing the praises of a divine being he calls “God”? Perhaps he understands something that many of us do not. Perhaps he has come to a revelation of the Father’s goodness because he understands the love that birthed that goodness… For thousands of years, man has attempted to answer this question of “Why?” If God is good, then why do people suffer? With great minds having penned their theological and philosophical treatises on the matter without ever giving a truly satisfying answer, I would not dare to attempt it. What I would dare is to claim that in the midst of human suffering God is still good and that to live fully, one must embrace pain along with joy.
As Solomon stated, “For in much wisdom is much grief, And he who increases knowledge increases suffering.” [iii] Plainly put, “He who has chosen to live a full life with God, has also chosen to know more pain.” The danger many of us face is that which destroys our ability to live fully: We feel the pain is too much to bear and thus open the door for the disengagement of our hearts. Anger and bitterness coincide with grief, and when not dealt with, they place a shield upon our hearts that thwarts the resting place of love. Ultimately, we do not know what else to do but sleep through the discourses of life, feeling a sense of satisfaction that is merely a layer over our untouched issues.
Our addictions reveal the root of pain hidden inside of us. It spurs us on to find anything in the natural that will act as a band-aid for our inner wounds. We end up settling for a life of “quiet desperation,” [iv] one that has canceled or forgotten our true desires. If, instead, we want to walk the narrow path of resistance that leads to life, we must first be willing to face our fear of pain.
God has given us the perfect example with His Son. His Son cried out to be saved from the cross, yet was fully surrendered to His Father even in His greatest pain. He endured the cross because He knew there would be joy on the other side of pain. [v] The only way in which we can deal with pain in a healthy manner is to do it with Him, the One who underwent more grief than we could ever understand. When we embrace His love, allowing Him to love us fully, all other forms of love pale in comparison. If we but believe in it, that everything in the universe exists to display it to us, we will catch glimpses of it and come to know Him. For “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” [vi] Without coming to know His love, our souls die.
Consider the title and first line of Charles Wesley’s classic hymn: “My God! I know, I feel thee mine.” [vii] His simple, yet profound words express more than a cognitive understanding of the Father’s love, but an intimate experience of it. Experiencing God’s love, whether through prayer, reading scripture, attending service or having a spiritual encounter, and allowing it to give us courage is what will enable us to face and conquer pain. Despite suffering in this world, God is on our side just as He was with His Son. When we are in pain, we should look to Him to witness His deliverance, not asking, “Why?” but “What are you doing, Father?” He will invite us to see Him, His light, goodness, and love even in the midst of despair. He will lead each of us to true, full, and fulfilling life, making us new along the way.
I chose to help Michael write his story not for those who feel they are content and happily plodding through life, but for those who have not yet tasted God’s goodness, those who cannot comprehend how He might be seen in their lives, those who have suffered and do not yet know His love. I write it for those who do not believe. We may never know Why this side of Heaven. Instead of questioning where He wasn’t, we must focus on where He was, what He has done.
For Michael, what He did do was reach down from Heaven to protect him, causing one event after another to keep him safe. What He did do was adjust things on earth so that Michael was taken care of miraculously, so that even the scars on his body feel as if they are no more. What He did do was restore his family to him. He is a walking miracle, not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually. What He did do was allow Michael to meet me, a writer who knew his story was worth telling…
[i] Michael S. Pruett with Vanessa J. Chandler, The Hard Road, Red Arrow Media [Redding, CA].
[ii] C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, Touchstone [New York, New York, 30-31].
[iii] Ecclesiastes 1:18 (NKJV)
[iv] Walden, Henry David Thoreau
[v] Hebrews 12:2
[vi] I John 4:16 NIV.
[vii] “My God! I know, I Feel Thee Mine,” Poetry Foundation, http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/180949, accessed March 24, 2014.
VANESSA J. CHANDLER
Vanessa is the Founder of Red Arrow Media. If she's not heartily working at the office, she can be found secretly stowed away in a closet reading a fictional story, researching historical facts in a library, or drinking thick, black coffee and eating pastries at a French cafe. She feels that writing is her life-blood, and after years of writing books and articles for others, she's finally able to pen her own work again.