a hard world and a good God

Posted: November 14, 2015 in Uncategorized

There are passages when the world seems so dark that it becomes hard for me to believe anyone knows true freedom or joy anymore.  Recent days have been like that for me.  In the past few weeks, everywhere I turn, people are struggling, in pain, confused, and overcome.  I have choked on tears while listening to the deeply private recounting of events so awful that no answer is sufficient – all I could offer was my silence and my prayers, and the certainty that my, “I am praying for you all,” is a small and cold comfort.  I have sat in support with people making difficult decisions, and tried to speak sanity and truth into insane situations and blatant untruths.  I have observed some bringing their worlds down upon their own heads, blaming everyone else in sight all the while, and have listened for what God might have me speak into the whirlwind, knowing the unlikelihood that my words would change anything, and also in some situations stuck with not even having access to offer input – I could only watch, ache, and pray.

It’s not just one or two isolated situations.  In any direction I turn, there it is.  Pain.  Chaos.  Confusion.

I’ve sat in rooms where someone speaking has implied that these passages of pain can be avoided if we will only just do what God says.  I’ve found this to be patently untrue.  Some of the worst of the situations I’ve been praying over this last couple of weeks began by someone being faithful – listening hard for His leading, stepping into making beautiful sacrifices of love.  They joyously chose to extend themselves in love, and now stand choosing between options which all contain great pain, and of which none offers any clear way through and out of the pain.  No answers.  No solutions.  Just – put your head down and keep walking.

I’ve heard some contend that if we are people of God we won’t choose badly.  This, too, looks like a falsehood from where I sit, as in some instances people who are really quite mature in their faith, deeply knowledgeable of scripture, steeped in prayer, and focused on holiness have just run their lives off the rails as they are blinded – generally by pride – on one front or another.

I’ve been listening to our inability to talk gently and reasonably to one another, in the bigger context.  The ways we respond to the world’s goings-on with our little preset talking points, ugly in our certainty, belligerent in our unwillingness to see anything but purposeful stupidity or callousness from anyone with whom we disagree.

Yes, the world has looked very dark to me lately.  Yesterday, 5 AM found G and me just clinging to one another in the lamplight and talking in a kind of awed horror through the details of situations we’ve been praying over.  People are in so much pain, we noted, and we both remembered our own long passages of pain.  I remembered aloud a stress headache that didn’t relent for so much as a moment over a period of long months.  I spoke about a space of more than a year when I cried every single day.  I recalled the exhausted feeling that I was running as hard as I knew how to run, with no rest and no end in sight.  I could easily look back and touch the frustration of feeling that I was never going to figure things out or get anything right.  G had all the same sorts of memories as well.  We know it was those passages that prepared us to walk through times like this – to keep on seeing, keep on caring, keep on letting others’ pain break our hearts, keep on carrying it all to the Father.

I’ve observed that not everyone can “keep on” in those things.  It looks like in some of those cases, those folks turned and ran from God when stuff got hard, and now they have no intimate, safe, close place to stand with Him in the storm.  It looks like in other cases, those folks haven’t yet experienced their own passage of deep pain, and can thus find no answer when they see pain but to blame the one who is suffering.  It looks like in yet other cases, those folks embraced bitterness in a full-on-the-mouth kiss, and took in a poison that daily paralyses them from noting anything that isn’t about themselves.  I say “it looks like” because I’ve walked long enough to understand how often I don’t know everything that I think I know.  Perhaps I mis-measure some of what I see.  Our perceptions come through our own personal “filters,” and I know for sure that my own filters have frequently been broken, and that generally I am blind to that until hindsight does the catch-up work in her own sweet time.

It looks to me like all of this is the reason for the necessity of a beaten, whipped, tortured, mocked, and crucified Savior.  Not just because some unnamed evil boogeyman who is “out there” and is “not me” does wrong, but because each and every one of us is shot through with mixed motives, garbled understanding, confused agendas, unflinching pride, persistent blame-shifting, good intentions intertwined with willful ignorance, bad intentions masked as righteousness, and downright moral laziness.  I don’t have the energy to point at *you* about this, since the mirror is so full of evidence of it in me.  We are a hot mess, and yet somehow He sees through all of that to the beautiful core – who He created us to be.  His likeness in us.  His own seed of eternity, hidden under the rubble of us.  He sees, and He knows, and He made a way for us to reach Him, to BE with Him, despite the ugliness.

This week in Chicago, just a few hundred feet from where I lived there, a thing too terrible for words happened.  A newborn baby girl was found dead in the grass.  She had lived a little while and then died.  As the story unfolded, it turned out that she had been thrown out an 8th or 9th story window by a mother whose family disapproved of her mixed race.  The layers of pain, horror and ugliness are too many to dissect here today.  I fell asleep weeping over this little life last night.

I know for sure that some are responding to this story by asking how a good God could let such a bad thing happen.  But it’s a good God that saw it coming – before earth was even earth! – and chose not to turn His face away, but to take all that is wrong in every one of us in those awful hours that were a beating with a “cat of nine tails” and the ensuing horror of death on a cross.  It’s a good God who holds that baby girl right now, beyond the reach of human harm.  It’s a good God that extends outstretched hands to the one who tossed her out the window, and to the ones who drove the mother to that brink, and to those of us who stand back and make our pronouncements of judgment, hiding our own filthy hands behind our backs as if we are without guilt.

The world is a hard and terrible place, and pain is inevitable while we are in it.

God is gracious and merciful beyond our ability to grasp such concepts.  He is all and only good, something which I don’t believe we will understand until we have passed beyond mortality.

The one truth doesn’t cancel the other, no matter how much we try to insist that it should.

For me, there really are no answers beyond this.  Not this side of heaven, at least.

For me, I won’t punch at heaven and try to insist it be otherwise.

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