The following is excerpted from Rose From Brier by Amy Carmichael, a book compiled from letters she wrote to those in the hospital on the Dohnavure compound after she herself had been bedridden and in pain for many years. This is from the chapter “Thy Calvary Stills All Our Questions.”
Yet listen now,
Oh, listen with the wondering olive trees,
And the white moon that looked between the leaves,
And gentle earth that shuddered as she felt
Great drops of blood. All torturing questions find
Answer beneath those old grey olive trees.
There, only there, we can take heart to hope
For all lost lambs – Aye, even for ravening wolves.
Oh, there are things done in the world today
Would root up faith, but for Gethsemane,
For Calvary interprets human life;
No path of pain but there we meet our Lord;
And all the strain, the terror and the strife
Die down like waves before his peaceful word,
And nowhere but beside the awful Cross,
And where the olives grow along the hill,
Can we accept the unexplained, the loss,
The crushing agony – and hold us still.
Children who love their Father know that when He says, “All things work together for good to them that love God,” He must mean the best good, though how that can be they do not know. This is a Why? of a different order from that of the little mosquito. It is immeasurable greater. It strikes at the root of things. Why is pain at all, and such pain? Why did God ask Satan the question which (apparently) suggested to the Evil One to deal so cruelly with an innocent man? Why do the innocent so often suffer? Such questions generally choose a time when we are in keen physical or mental suffering, and may (the questioner hopes will) forget our comfort. They seize us like fierce living things and claw at our very souls.
Between us and a sense of the pain of the world there is usually a gate, a kind of sluice gate. In our unsuffering hours it may be shut fast. Thank God, it is shut fast for tens of millions. But let severe pain come, and it is as though the torture in us touched a secret spring, and the door opens suddenly, and straight upon us pour the lava floods of the woe of a Creation that groans and travails together….
O Lord, why?
…I have read many answers, but none satisfy me. One often given is our Lord’s to St. Peter: “What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.” And yet it is not an answer. He is speaking there of something which He Himself is doing, He is not doing this. “Ought not this woman whom Satan hath bound be loosed?” That was always His attitude toward suffering, and so that blessed word is not an answer to this question, and was not meant to be.
There are many poetical answers; one of them satisfied me for a time:
Then answered God to the cry of His world:
“Shall I take away pain,
And with it the power of the soul to endure,
Made strong by the strain?
Shall I take away pity that knits heart to heart,
And sacrifice high?
Will you lose all your heroes that lift from the fire
White brows to the sky?
Shall I take away love, that redeems with a price,
And smiles at its loss?
Can you spare from your lives that would climb unto mine
The Christ on His cross?”
But, though, indeed, we know that pain nobly born strengthens the soul, knits hearts together, leads to unselfish sacrifice (and we could not spare from our lives the Christ of the Cross), yet, when the raw nerve in our own flesh is touched, we know, with a knowledge that penetrates to a place which these words cannot reach, that our question is not answered. It is only pushed farther back, for why should that be the way of strength, and why need hearts be knit together by such sharp knitting needles, and who would not willingly choose relief rather than the pity of the pitiful?
No, beautiful words do not satisfy the soul that is confined in the cell whose very substance is pain. Nor have they any light to shed upon the suffering of the innocent. They are only words. They are not an answer.
What, then, is the answer? I do not know. I believe that it is one of the secret things of the Lord, which will not be opened to us till we see Him who endured the Cross, see the scars in His hands and feet and side, see Him, our Beloved, face to face. I believe that in that revelation of love, which is far past our understanding now, we shall “understand even as all along we have been understood.”
And till then? What does a child do whose mother or father allows something to be done which it cannot understand? There is only one way of peace. It is the child’s way. The loving child trusts.
I believe that we who know our God, and have proved Him good past telling, will find rest there. The faith of the child rests on the character it knows. So may ours, so shall ours. Our Father does not explain, nor does He assure us as we long to be assured… But we know our Father. We know His character. Somehow, somewhere, the wrong must be put right; how we do not know, only we know that, because He is what He is, anything else is inconceivable. For the word sent to the man whose soul was among lions and who was soon to be done to death, unsuccored, though the Lord of Daniel was so near, is fathomless: “And blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in me.”
There is only one place we can receive, not an answer to our questions, but peace — that place is Calvary. An hour at the foot of the Cross steadies the soul as nothing else can. “O Christ beloved, Thy Calvary stills all our questions.” Love that loves like that can be trusted about this.