Shadows of Suffering Fade in the Light of Christ


pianoMaurice Ravel’s Pianoforte Concerto for the left hand was written for Austrian pianist, Paul Wittgenstein, who lost his right arm in the 1st World War.

Imagine Wittgenstein’s grief! Music was the center of his world. He grew up in a prominent Viennese household visited by composers such as Johannes Brahms, Gustav Mahler, and Richard Straus: As a boy, Paul Wittgenstein occasionally played duets with them. He was close to 30 years of age when he lost his arm. It must have been a terrible shock!

Victory over adversity

Despite losing his arm, Wittgenstein did not give up. He went on to a successful career as a concert pianist. He commissioned various works that he could perform from composers such as Benjamin Britten, Paul Hindemith, Richard Strauss and, as I just mentioned, Maurice Ravel. Wittgenstein was a wonderful example of human capacity to overcome and triumph over adversity!

The public loved Wittgenstein most as a one armed pianist. (Everyone loves an over-comer!) Did Paul Wittgenstein play Ravel’s Pianoforte for the left hand better than any two armed pianist? Probably not, but the public wanted it played by someone who had earned the right to play it. The musician’s suffering was as important to the composition for the left hand as the notes themselves; together they made the music more beautiful and compelling.

Disability or suffering need not eclipse or darken the human spirit. Adversity can darken a person’s life for a period of time, yet nature itself tells us that shadows will pass. Hurting people usually emerge from the shadows of suffering inexorably changed. The sufferer decides how they are changed by suffering. They can use suffering as a vehicle for internal growth or a stumbling block to it. To remain unchanged would be to render the darkness of suffering without purpose.

In a spiritual sense, our sufferings, sorrow and pain may seem to eclipse Christ, our ultimate source of light.  Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” At our deepest point of personal darkness we may lose sight of the light. At such times, we must cling desperately to God’s promise not to leave us nor abandon us (Hebrews 13.5-7)—regardless of appearances or feelings. We must remind ourselves that God’s promises are reliable, feelings are not.

Fertile ground for growth

Even though our bodies are wasting away, God is working an ultimate glory that will surpass all our suffering (see 2 Corinthians 4.16-18). We walk by faith not by sight (2 Corinthians 5.7.) Shadows and darkness can provide fertile ground for faith to grow.

The Scriptures tell us that faith is the realization of things hoped for and evidence for things not seen (Hebrews 11.1). And what is it we hope for?

A Christian’s hope is that yet unfathomable reality of standing in the full light of Christ’s love and glory of eternity. For now, it seems so faint. We have only inklings and Divine promises to steady our pace toward the final goal. Saint Paul put it this way:

“At present we see indistinctly , as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially, then I shall know fully, as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13.12).

That’s what awaits those who are in Christ Jesus! No more reflected light, just the real thing. No more shadows or darkness, just the light of Christ. We will understand just as we are already understood. He leads us by His light through the shadows of a darkened world toward eternity where nothing is dark anymore. Life’s present sufferings are nothing compared to the glory that awaits us.

“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance.” (Romans 8.18, 24-25.)

May God bless you today.


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  • Struble

    To be a citizen in the USA involves the suffering described by Jose Ortega y Gasset. “’I say that the end of a civilization is the scene most imbued with melancholy for men. The possibility that a civilization should die doubles our own mortality.’”