There may be as many explanations for the question, “Why does suffering exist?” as there are people in the world.

Many–most–all? of the world’s major religions take on the challenge of illuminating human suffering.  These religions also come out with vastly different conclusions.  Some say that suffering is to be avoided at all cost, even transcended…that is, when one can practice right action, speech, and intention.   Still others say that suffering is way God tests or refines his people.  And still others say suffering is mysterious, not always meaningful and purposeful, not always from God…a result of evil that exists in the world…which may even be carried out by those with the best intentions.

It is worth examining your own preconceived notions about suffering as we turn to the readings for Sunday, September 19th.

By the way, the blog post this week will not be coming to a tidy conclusion with prayer.  Rather, I would like it to leave it open to interpretation with this photograph and the story of Gordon, a runaway slave who joined the Union Army during the Civil War.


In the fall of 1862, Gordon received a severe beating–ordered by his plantation owner, yet carried out by another–for undisclosed reasons.  During a 2-month long recuperation in bed, Gordon planned his escape.  In March 1863, Gordon fled his home, heading east towards the Mississippi River. Upon learning of his flight, his master recruited several neighbors and together they chased after him with a pack of bloodhounds. Gordon had anticipated that he would be pursued and carried with him onions from the plantation, which he rubbed on his body to throw the dogs off-scent. Such resourcefulness worked, and Gordon—his clothes torn and his body covered with mud and dirt—reached the safety of Union soldiers stationed at Baton Rouge ten days later. He had traveled approximately eighty miles.

As President Lincoln had granted African Americans the opportunity to serve in segregated units only months earlier, Gordon was at the front of a movement that would ultimately involve nearly 200,000 African Americans. It was during his medical examination prior to being mustered into the army that military doctors discovered the extensive scars on his back.  Gordon was asked to pose for a picture that would reveal the harsh treatment he had recently received.  It was this photo, in part, that helped the abolitionist cause to take hold in the hearts of the American people.

Smithsonian Collection

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