Where is God to be found in suffering? An examination of literature as theology

Dr Hopper would like to consider the question of where God is to be found in suffering. At the onset of the pandemic, her daughter was diagnosed with MS. Because of COVID, Belinda was the only visitor allowed at the hospital. The pressing issues for her became: where was I to find spiritual sustenance to sustain myself and my daughter in her grief; how to assure her that God was present in her pain, and where to find hope that the Lord was working all things for her good.

Emails from church were perfunctory, detailing the transition to online church, and the processes of booking online to attend church in person. They detailed instructions about which gate to enter, how to sign in, and where the hand-sanitizer would be. The focus was on keeping church “open for business”, as one minister announced in their debut online service. There was nothing to acknowledge the grief that the world was in the grip of a deadly virus. Church communication spent no time lamenting that the body of Christ had to face this crisis physically dislocated. There was no ministering from a distance, to assuage the anxious hearts of congregants, fearful of the unknown. In times of uncertainty, we find comfort in the familiar. Belinda found herself re-reading favourite passages of Marilynne Robinson’s prize-winning novel, Gilead, where Reverend Ames reflects on living through the Spanish Influenza a hundred years earlier. Only in reading literature as theology, seeing the protagonist reflect on the lessons learned in his lifetime, facing a pandemic of an earlier century, was Belinda assured that the Lord is still sovereign over the chaos.

In this paper, Belinda would like to explore the benefits of reading literature as theology and what literature has to teach us about where God is in our suffering.