As followers of Christ we have a particular understanding of why this is so; but every story that ‘explains’ humanity must deal with the reality in some way. Well… perhaps that’s not true. It’s hard to believe that anyone really denies that it is so, but I’m afraid our whole society is founded on a life devoted to just such a denial.
It goes like this:
Shit doesn’t happen. Rather blessings in disguise happen.
There’s no tragedy that so stains our lives that its stench can’t be washed off with a little bit of elbow grease.
No pain need be permanent. No failure lasting. No discomfort or imperfection imagined apart from a remedy.
Its not really shit, or it doesn’t really happen- at least not to me; at least not to (fill in the blank) people.
Now of course as followers of Christ we ought to agree that things are not the way they are supposed to be, and that one day God will wipe every tear from our eyes. On that day ‘all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.’ That’s very true. This setting things right is the proper Xian understanding of justice; and certainly we ought to manifest a concern for justice in every area of our lives- ‘far as the curse is found,’ but…
… though we long for that great day on which the New Age arrives in its fullness, and though we live our lives so as to manifest the life of that Eternal Age in the midst of this present one, this Present Age is broken and dying.
This is another way of saying that honest-to-god, horrible, tragic ‘shit’…
… really happens.
This is part of the story of the world that you were grafted into at your baptism. It’s the story of the world according to the crucified and risen Christ.
Pain and loneliness exist.
Disappointment and unfulfilled dreams, longings and desires exist.
Sometimes for a lifetime.
And we don’t have to scan the newspapers for the exotic or sensational. Everyone ages. That means- as I’m learning- all sorts of new pain, difficulties and embarrassments. We all die. We, every one of us, hurt others. That’s the reality. Some of these things are the consequence of personal choices; many are not. For both the innocent and the guilty the world is fallen. Tornadoes don’t discriminate.
This isn’t to say that these things are okay. Rather it’s to affirm that creation is not the way it should be. This brokenness is the way it is. To acknowledge this is to simply affirm that we need a savior- that we are in need of saving… not primarily from God (as some traditions would have it- though God certainly hates those things that harm the ones he loves), but from ourselves, sin and death.
God responded to evil by entering into it. It wasn’t denied. He didn’t ‘make sense’ of it. It wasn’t immediately cured; nor did he run from it. Rather he came to join those whom tragedy had broken. He wept. He found their pain and guilt, and acted as if they were his own- his pain; his fault, and he did all for the glory that was set before him… on the other side of death. By that I don’t mean the life that awaited him after he ‘went to heaven when he died,’ but rather the new creation of this world that was his resurrection- the consequence of his obedience unto death; this means that when the spikes were driven into his wrists, it was a joy visible only by faith in the goodness and faithfulness of his Father.
- ‘I was expecting you,’ ought to be our greeting when the wolf of evil pushes open the door to our cabin.
- ‘How long will you let this go on!’ ought to be our lamentation to God when the pain begins and….continues.
- ‘It is appointed unto man once to die’ ought to be our morning meditation. And our afternoon, and evening.
- ‘Lo, I am with you always’ as we are present at the ‘bedside’ of the dying and sick, the lonely, the weak, broken, old and incurably suffering; and as we allow the presence of others when pain inevitably tries to isolate us from the rest of mankind- for there is nothing that so effectively turns you inward as real pain.
- ‘Though he slays me, I will trust him’ our motto as we take up our cross, confident that hell’s reign has been undone, and that our resurrection is as certain as his.
Of course there are other stories being told about tragedy- mostly denial, acquiescence or avoidance. It causes people to run from age with plastic surgery, to hide away the sick and hurting; to face ‘Tsunamis’ with Pollyannaesque clichés that only our wealth and personal distance make possible.
Sometimes, as we are always tempted to do, we substitute these stories for that of our baptism. ‘God didn’t bring you this far to let you fail.’ ‘God doesn’t want you to be unhappy.’ ‘If you are where God want you to be, then he will give you perfect peace.’ This Christianese often hides the fact that we’ve swapped our gospel story for another. We know the switch has been made when an immediate cure is expected or becomes our primary mission. We know the switch has been made when we are unfamiliar with the most common of human experiences: death, suffering and doubt- especially that of others.
Against these denials of full humanity remember: St. Paul was imprisoned, stoned and beheaded; righteous Job lost his family in a great whirlwind and Jesus in dreadful fear sweated drops of blood as he perfectly fulfilled God’s will… on a cross.
It is right to expect suffering; it is right to oppose your evil circumstances; it is right to bear in hope a situation that admits no remedy in this life. It is right to trust in God’s goodness.
Our hope is in knowing that Christ has died; Christ has risen; Christ will come again!
Love you all,