A Personal View of the Suffering

Many of the Samaritan’s Purse team have been deeply impacted by their time of service at the hospital. Mark Langham, who served as base manager for a time, wrote the following blog post that gives a vivid glimpse into the tragedy and triumph of what the team is going through. 

My first day at the emergency field hospital just east of Mosul, Iraq, was very much like my last day. Mortar strikes on civilians, children bloody and broken, black bags to hold the dead. The slow, solemn walk, cradling a 10-year-old in my arms, counting the steps to the morgue. Laying someone’s son down on cold gravel, reading his name one last time on the death certificate taped to the body bag.

Time of death 18:17.

Patient #855.

I’ll never forget the sounds of his dying. The rattling and the gurgling. I’ll never forget the songs we sung over him, the prayers strangled by grief and sorrow. The tear-stained cheeks and our righteous anger. I’ll never forget the faraway look on his precious face. I’ll never forget his face. What was left of it.

That last night may have been the worst. The toddler with ribs exposed from mortar wounds. Nine children in one day. But there were other days, other nights when I thought my heart might die. The toddlers with their feet shot off. The whole families targeted by drone strikes. The burnt and blackened restaurant patrons, victims of a suicide bomber. One night in particular I carried five children to the morgue. It leaves you breathless, concussed. The mortar of sorrow, a direct shot to the soul.

I’m processing, I’m free-bleeding my heart and thoughts here so I don’t explode and because I don’t have the luxury of denial. I cannot separate my belief in a good and sovereign God, and the suffering of innocents. If there is no reconciling the two, then I am lost. We all are. Especially Christians—fools to be pitied of all men.

But what we found there, behind those blast walls, with the ceaseless drums of artillery fire, the strangled song of the whine and wail of one ambulance after another, was that hope is not a thing you wish for, it is the only thing afloat in a raging sea of chaos. It is what you hold on to, what holds on to you so you do not go under the relentless waves of grief. And we found that you hold on to each other. And you pray like gasping for your last breath. And you plead with Heaven, even when Heaven is silent. And you raise your broken hearts together in a pitiful little petition, more whimpers than words, and you beg, unified in grief, “Jesus please …”

The Bible says that suffering produces hope. Suffering produces hope in this way: when terrorism and hate and the cancer of evil spreads with a blight of darkness over all that is good, the light still does not go out. There is a flame in the hearts of those who have known the love of God. There is a song of praise that is not stalled on their lips, is not silenced. There is a light in the inner places of those who have heard the Word of Life and believed. This is the flower of hope that grows in the garden of souls by Heaven’s Holy seed. This is the hope that springs eternal, because it has always existed, always will exist apart from the human stain, in the holy heart of God.

But hope is inevitable in us only when we trust, against our own instincts, in the goodness of God and allow ourselves to be taken deep into our own human frailty, far past vulnerability to the point of despair. And in that wasteland of our utter uselessness, in that wilderness of our unraveling, God is there, He is faithful. He alone, as He has always been, is holding the universe together and simultaneously holds us in the palm of His hand.

That is the only hope: that God holds His own in the palm of His hands while they yet suffer. And that the insatiable hunger of the mouth of hell cannot devour the ragtag, broken band of believers called the church.

In the picture here, I hold in my hand a 50-caliber bullet taken from the body of a preteen boy. An ISIS sniper shot him because theirs is an ideology of fear. They target the weak, not just because the weak are low-hanging fruit, but because most of us are weak. Most of us are trying to live our simple lives in peace. ISIS needs capitulation. They need submission.

A sniper bullet in the side of a child reminds us the world is not at peace and things are not simple. It reminds us that suffering isn’t a concept, that no abstraction paralyzed this young man. It reminds us that we are fragile and vulnerable. It reminds us that to walk the way of love, our hearts will be obliterated by suffering.

And so against all hope we hope, that love will one day conquer all. But not human love. Only God’s selfless love, for with it comes His perfect all-powerful justice and the promise and ability to make all things new. Godspeed that day. Especially for the precious children of Mosul.