In His Desolation

Henri Nouwen corresponded with Senator Mark O. Hatfield (1922-2011), a Republican senator from Oregon. The Senator endured some troubles due to an ethics investigation. Henri and Senator Hatfield had become acquaintances because of mutual interest in US foreign policy in South and Central America in the 1980s. Henri’s heart held love for the impoverished in Latin America. In a second letter to the Senator, Henri encourages him to find hope in the resurrection, but also in His suffering.

There lies our first hope. Not only on the resurrection but also on the solidarity of the Son of God with all human suffering. I am always struck that poor people are so attracted to images of the suffering Christ. In Spain and Latin America, Good Friday often seems even more important than Easter. There is a certain realism here. People are looking for strength to live their hard life faithfully. They often find more consolation in knowing that God is with them in the struggle, in the agony and even in the experience of being abandoned by God, than in the knowledge that finally life will prove stronger than death. For most people the most burning question is: how to make it another day, another week, another year. Looking at the crucified Jesus in his desolation they can say: ‘But we are not alone, he is with us.’ There we come to understand fully what it means that God is compassionate, that God is a God who suffers with us.

Love, Henri. p. 127

God forgive us, it is so hard to believe when we are suffering in the rigors of life. We almost can’t help but think that God should make our lives easier if He loves us. Further, if we were more faithful or did more good deeds then life would turn around and all would be well. But it is in his desolation that we find solidarity with Him. Suffering is not a sign of unfaithfulness or of lagging faith. It is an alignment with His own heart. In another letter to a friend named Barb, who was struggling with guilt, anger and family troubles, Henri writes:

God does not leave you alone. He sent Jesus to you to live and feel fully your struggle. You are not alone in your anger, frustration and desolation. Look at the cross and be there as John and Mary. … Trust your knowledge that God loves you.

Love, Henri. p. 129

At the funeral of our son, there were so many who came to express sympathy and love. It was such a turnout. Most were understandably at a loss for words. And then through the line of friends, I saw him. His son had died of cancer, much too young. He was charming, funny, loving, and devoted to God. But he died. I can remember his father in that line of people. When he got to me he just somberly shook my hand. I said, “You know.” He said, “I know.” In that same way dear friend, Jesus meets us in our sorrows and heartaches and says, “I know.” In his desolation, we find we are not alone.

This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.

Hebrews 4:15, NLT