Monday, November 24, 2014

Where was God?

"Where was God when that terrible suffering happened to me?"

"Where was God when I saw my grandmother suffer and die in such a terrible way?"

"I cried out to God over and over, and nobody came and helped me.  Nobody was there.  That's why I don't believe in God."

These are the words of many people I've known.  During some of the darker times of my life, over a decade of suffering and praying and begging God to help, only to have nothing appear to change, these were my cries.  These were my words, my thoughts.  This was my anger, my death of faith.

And the truth is, I really don't know the answer in detail.  I don't know how to call God to account for his alleged absence when things go wrong, when people die, when suffering lingers like an agonizing dirge.

I could point out the theological fact of God's sovereignty.  "God is in control.  You can trust Him to turn your pain into something good."  This is true, but in the midst of gut-wrenching torment, that is often cold comfort.  After all, we've cried out to Him, and it would appear that He turned his back on us... or simply doesn't exist.  It seems unfathomable that God could have good reasons for allowing it to happen.  Even though a transcendent God, by definition, could have reasons that we could not understand or see or think of, we still don't really like this.

I could take the route we find in the book of Job.  When Job finally reached the end of his rope, he called God to give an account for all the suffering and loss and injustice he had endured.  It felt so wrong, so unfair.  God must give an account!  But when God showed up and began to turn the questioning toward Job, suddenly Job was humbled and began to worship.  God's presence was enough for him, and he saw his rightful place in comparison to God's transcendence.

But really, if we want to know where God was when that terrible thing happened, when we begged and begged and pleaded with Him to relieve us of our agony and nothing happened, we need only look at the cross.  Where was God?  Hanging on the cross.

I'm not asking you to fully understand it.  I'm not asking you to even like it -after all, it goes completely against all of our expectations of how a "god" should handle things.  That sentiment is certainly nothing new.  So no, I'm just asking you to look.  I'm asking you to look at the cross, where Jesus of Nazareth -the one called "the Christ"- hung and died.

That, ultimately, is your answer.  It is God's statement to the world, His message, His Word in human flesh.  In a kind of eerie silence, God gives no answer to our demand for answers, no details as to why, for our specific situation, He allowed it to be so.  He offers no apologies or justifications.  The God-man just hangs there, like a lamb led to slaughter. Yet this gruesome event communicates more to us than language can capture or intellect describe.

In the darkest hour, when it seemed God was most distant, He was more near and more invested in humanity's plight than ever.  This is the paradox of the cross.  It is both our indictment and our salvation.   And it is where our demand that God be what we decide is exposed for what it is.  Our demands and claims against God are silenced by the silence of heaven in that solemn, sacred moment.  We see that our imperious hands put Him there.

In one act, the God of the universe who gave us breath and owes us nothing, declared to us, "I am with you, I suffer beside you, and this is how I chose to save you all.  On my terms, not yours.  By the shedding of truly innocent blood.  This is what had to be done for you, for you are filthy, stained by your arrogance.  Yet by this I will make you mine and, one day, set everything right."

And on the third day, when the Son of Man rose, mankind's new beginning rose with Him.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Veteran's Day

It's been a while, now, since I've really had time to develop thoughts into longer articles, but this thought seemed worth posting even in short form.  Today is Veteran's Day.  I am torn between avoiding it completely, since it was a military veteran who helped break up my family, and spiritualizing it into a discussion about Jesus' sacrifice for us, overlooking the actual sacrifices of men and women for the freedoms we hold dear.  But I think today I will resist that tension as much as possible.  I'm also not going to go all "Christian-patriot" and use this day as a soap-box to talk about how this is a Christian nation.  Furthermore, I'm not going to use this as an opportunity to warn us about how our freedoms and values are eroding from within, even though they are, or perhaps how our military is used to further a political and likely commercial agenda that is not in our best interests.  No, I'm going to do my best to resist the urge to do all of that and simply thank God and the men and women who have sacrificed themselves to serve our country.  I am thankful that I live where I live, that I can walk down the street without dodging mortars, that I can safely take my kids to the park, that I can pray to and worship God, and that I can live a blessed life with those I love; and I am thankful to those who have given their lives to contribute to and preserve that for me and for everyone else in this country.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Do You Wanna Live Forever?

The other night I was having a conversation with a friend, and this friend said to me, "If you could live forever, would you?"  They then proceeded to explain to me how they would want to.  "After a few hundred years," they explained, "I would love to have things figured out."  Their belief was that it would take probably a few hundred years to get to the place where they had enough experience and wisdom that life would be what they always wanted it to be.  They would have "figured it out."

And so the story goes... the story of glory.  Of course, not all stories of glory are the same, but they have the same basic theme:  given enough time, effort, resources, help, or whatever, we can and ought to be able to reach the level of "glory"... whether it be wealth or wisdom or power or anything.  We can reach the pinnacle if only we have enough character and time.

Some stories of glory are more humanistic or atheistic, like this one.  But some are more religious... even "Christian" sounding... with enough books, effort, prayer, speaking the right words, doing the right things, I can reach either some kind of subjective "Christian goodness" and rise above the rest of the world or sequester God's blessing.

But the story of the cross is the only real story.  What I mean by that is that the story of the cross is the only story that represents reality, in the end.  All other dreams of glory ultimately fade into the wind.  My friend could be given thousands or millions of years to try, but they would never reach the place they sought.  They would never reach that utopia because it cannot be achieved like that.  It doesn't exist.  This world, and this life, cannot be "fixed" like that.  It can be improved to varying degrees, but never "fixed".  A "patch job" just won't do.

Yet, in the cross we find life on the other side of and through death.  In the cross we see that what is required is not more effort, more religion, more time to accumulate enough wisdom, or anything of the sort.  We see that what is required is nothing less than death... coming down, dying under the system of this world with all of its pretense and boasts of power and wisdom, and rising from that death to a new age, a new system of things.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

About Love

I used to think that love meant being awesome for someone else.  I used to think that it meant being so great that you would knock their socks off and they would be so impressed by you.  I used to think that love meant impressing someone. 

But I realized that love is about vulnerability and allowing someone else to love you as the imperfect and flawed person that you are, who will never meet all their "needs".  It is about being able to receive love.  It is about swallowing your pride and embracing your very limited humanness and letting someone else see it. 

And this is the problem that makes love so hard.  See, that takes something greater than being Mr. impressive.  It takes courage.  It means taking a massive risk.  It means putting yourself out there for someone to either love you or not, to take you and commit to you or not.