"Lord, hear my prayer, and let my cry come before you; hide not your face from me in the day of trouble." Psalm 102:1
The rest of the psalm consists of a pretty serious litany of "bad stuff." A few of the phrases: "a heart smitten and withered," "lie awake and groan," "reviled all day long," "my days pass away like a shadow." It is raw, it is unabashedly human and it resonates with real life. It is not what one would expect from a Holy Book. There is not much spin at all. Life can be torturously difficult, yet, like the psalmist we can look past our pain and say "But you, O Lord, endure for ever and your name from age to age." That, my friends, is what is called perspective. Seeing things in their proper context. And it is not a simplistic theology which ignores the reality of evil.
One of the most stunning characteristics of the Old Testament is the brutal honesty of the writing. The Jews write their "history" and with few exceptions paint a picture of a people unfaithful and undeserving. It is so different from the sort of happy-clappy propaganda we are used to. The Jews have canonized these texts, claiming that God speaks through these words. Christians have followed this lead and our canon includes similar honesty in the New Testament.
The central story of Christianity is the cross of Christ. When I was a Roman Catholic priest I used to ask parishioners, "How can you go to a church where there is a giant statue of a man on a cross and not figure out that suffering is part of the deal?" One of my complaints in the Episcopal (one of many!) is that we do not have the crucifix. The (weak) response is we live in a resurrection church. Theologically that is true. But existentially the cross is still as real now as it was in 33AD. I do way too much counseling and far too many funerals to ever believe that the days of the cross are long gone. I see it every day and hear the groans of the crucified...
The cross is the story of love in spite of rejection. The cross is the story of self gift and perfect offering/sacrifice. The cross is the story of God "turning away His face." It is abandonment into darkness and gloom. It is pain and horror and tragedy. Without the cross our suffering seems meaningless. Yet, if God has embraced such senseless brutality and taken it into Himself, then perhaps there is hope that our own suffering can have a deeper meaning and value. Even senseless and brutal suffering can make sense. God speaks His word on the cross. But it is not His last word. There is also Easter Sunday. There is also redemption, renewal, new life, the Promise fulfilled.
I am always struck by that detail in the resurrection accounts where Jesus says, "look at my hands and my feet and my side." It is amazing that in His glorified state He takes those wounds with Him. Nothing of His passion is left behind. Amazing.
Some years ago I stood before a freshly dug grave to bury a loved one. I shared then what I believe. "Some people ask 'why me?' My only thought is 'why not?'" The bible teaches, over and again, that God is far away sometimes. It makes it clear that those who love God can still suffer greatly. It makes clear that doubt, fear, struggle, failure are all a fundamental part of the great story of our shared journey in faith. I repeat what I shared yesterday, our task is to love and worship and obey God. Whether things go well or not, our task remains the same. Thanks for sharing in the journey with me.
[I am going with our youth group for a few days. Please pray for us. I will blog again next Week.]