August 1st, 2012 was the day that morality and freedom of speech in America was saved by the mass consumption of chicken and waffle fries. Lines poured out of Chick-filA establishments around the country as religiously motivated citizens waited 45 to 60 tortuous minutes to consume their greasy Constitutional endorsement. In a moment of good sportsmanship, many gays arrived just a bit too late to hold back the torrent of hungry evangelicals and acknowledged that indeed they had lost the battle. ”Oh, you got us good this time…” one flaming, magenta-cloaked almost customer remarked, as he backed out of the parking lot to find another source of gay-friendly fried chicken he was now craving. In a moment of true embarrassment, a few key officials with the ACLU were caught having waited at a drive thru in the DC area. ”Oh, that was today…”, as they hid their honey mustard crusted faces in shame. Like urban seagulls, many politicians flocked to their local Chick-filA establishments to secure their endorsement for November. The sheer force of the Eat Mor Chikin party will be seen later in November. Many are concerned that their quick access to quality sources of protein and carbs may give them an edge over other activists, but one competing party leader was quick to remind about their oh, so delicious milkshakes and the likely sugar-driven comas that will follow for many.
In other news, America is still desperately in need of people who are willing to invest their lives in building loving, supportive communities for people being shaken to the core by crisis and fearful questions about their value.
There are days when I question whether what I do matters beyond the immediate people I love and the needs I meet. Were this to be my last day, would I leave behind something of value that others would truly benefit from? Has something in the way I lived or loved changed others? Or am I merely growing older a bit more each day? Were I to be honest, I would acknowledge my deeper questions about whether I have a unique value in the eyes of God, and not in some self-obsessed fashion of wanting God to be as absorbed in the details of my life as I am, but rather, on the whole, have I reflected even a bit of the goodness I have been given with enough effectiveness that someone would wonder at its source? I have lived in the perspective of needing a God that was absolutely caught up in my every move, and while I doubt I go unnoticed, I don’t also need every moment to be a crescendo. I am okay with the lulls, and the stillness at times.
Further, there are times when I feel pinned down by life, by surviving, by showing up again and again, by others still maintaining personal distance or choosing to relate in ways that minimize their personal exposure, but leave us all feeling isolated and alone at the end of the day. I grow weary of professionalism. I am tired of quick hello or “like” on a status, but then still finding that we are all so busy in our own little worlds to find a more meaningful way to connect.
I am tired of the news, and particularly the polarization and political soundbites. I hate how much emotional energy so many spend getting worked up over something that was designed to tweak their fears and not prepare them to live together in a better way. I hate that it is somehow more socially acceptable to notice an outfit a celebrity recently brandished than it is to be aware about how our family, our neighbor, or our coworkers are truly doing.
What does hope look like when it is not primarily self-purposed, self-deceived, or a reaction to our fear? How do we choose to believe that tomorrow will be better when we know it is 99% more likely that we will all spin our wheels until then and not really change how we live, think, or love? How do we hope when we have trained ourselves to be so afraid of what we might lose rather than sacrificing together for what we might be?
I am tired. I am tired at the expense of hope, the cost of blocking the assaults of fear, the weariness of living in isolation while surrounding myself with tasks and people. My family has invested in others and risked our time, energy, and resources in the hope that we can move to a better place together. Perhaps tomorrow we will see the fruit of that hope, but today, I feel tired.
I want tomorrow to be different. I want us to be different. I want that those who have experienced true love to reinvest that love in a transformational community. I want us all to not feel so alone or afraid. I want us all to know that we are more valuable than the latest gossip, soundbite, or fad. I want us to live like we found the best thing in the world, and not need to have our lives stripped to a minimum to see that what we had at our fingertips.
Our framework for understanding sin is changing. For far too long sin has primarily been assigned a definition around a measurable set of actions, where if they were to be mitigated or halted altogether, the world would suddenly be made right again. So much energy has been invested in understanding the source of sin, the ranking of various sins, and the appropriate amount of sin that indicates “you are working on it” or “you aren’t really ready for church yet, are you?”. Sin has been linked to bodily fluids, demonic influence, sexual differences, and on and on over the centuries. Sin has been misunderstood.
Whether you embrace the story of the Garden of Eden as an exact representation of historical, chronological fact or a retelling of the majesty of creation in a form we can somehow wrap our heads around and understand, it is crucial to truly perceive where the root of sin actually enters this world and what is manifested out of the sin. In Genesis, we see the first man and woman interacting with a world that was designed to reinforce their value. Each new day of creation, with greater and greater intentionality and detail, builds to the appearance of man and then woman. When they enter the scene, they are given the job of caring for this world and learning of the Creator and themselves as they worked. Adam and Eve were secure. They were at peace with themselves and the world. (see reference below)
Then enters the serpent, who merely poses a few questions about what God really communicated. It tempts them with the desire to be further like God. It is important to recognize at this point that Adam and Eve already had the ability to choose and act independently, as what follows would not be possible without them possessing the ability to act independently from what was best for them. Thus, sin is not fundamentally about the ability to choose or act independently from God.
Adam and Eve consume the literal or allegorical fruit, and their eyes are opened first and foremost to themselves. Their immediate sensation was that of shame, insecurity, and feeling out of place in their own skin. Their first reaction was to scurry about their environment to find something that would hide their sense of shame, in this case a few fig leaves. It is in this reaction that we truly see what sin is. Sin is not primarily about actions, but rather actions are a symptom of the presence of sin. Sin is better understood as a disease, a state of being. And what is this new state of being? As mentioned earlier, Adam and Eve previously lived secure in the world, knowing of their value from the dirt in which they dug their feet and the voice of God who they knew with familiarity. This new state of being left them ashamed to such an extent that they hid from the presence of God, and they placed more value on their new sense of self-awareness than they did in the voice of God that they heard calling for them.
Thus mankind lives infected. We carry the disease of the voice of shame that drones out the voice of our value that calls us to live at peace with ourselves and the world. We reach out unendingly for things to bring a silence to our insecurity. Unlike the rest of creation, we rarely fight for survival, territory, food, or water. Rather most of our personal and grander wars stem out of our disease that dares us to make this world establish our value, even at the expense of others or that which we need for life. We do not live at peace with a world that screams you are valuable, so valuable that the environment itself surrounds us with nutrition, recreation, harmony, and beauty. Rather we bow our personal motivations to the greater fear and insecurity that rules our actions, and we take, we demand, we fight, we scheme, we wound, we run, we hide, we hate, we perform.
Acts of sin can much more readily be understood as symptoms of the disease, and our investment of our lives in these symptoms furthers the influence of the disease on our souls. Were someone to say to you, “Would you like to know how to add a guaranteed 10 years to your life?”, we would all line up to hear about the magical cure to stretch our existence. But if in listening to the cure we were told we needed to stop doing certain things (smoking, overeating, sitting too frequently), we would balk at the audacity that someone had for telling us how to live our lives or walk away discouraged at the personal cost. If someone said, “Would you like to know how to restore inner health and bring new life to your soul?”, similarly many of us would balk at a list that limited our freedom of choice. However, I think this is a better way of understanding repentance and how we walk out of the influence of the disease of sin. This is a battle of influence of the defining force in our lives, the emptying enslavement of shame and insecurity or the surrender to the security of a more stable voice of love. False control of that which breeds shame or a surrender of our right to demand, control, and fight for ourselves in exchange for accepting the always stable value the divine has placed in us.
Almost ironically and sadly tragically, all too often the response to the shame-motivated symptoms of the disease of sin have been greeted with ever increasing shame and isolation. We have created the need for a false appearance of having it all together in order to participate in many communities of faith. There is little healing and freedom brought to our infected brothers and sisters by furthering the influence of rejection. Rather, we should invite, beckon, beg others to follow our communal path because of the process of restoration and healing we are also walking through. Does this mean calling the disease good or the symptoms of the disease good? Of course not, but this does mean that the value of the person infinitely and forever exceeds the “value” of the disease they are fighting. In the same way, we would weep and embrace those fighting cancer, so should we stand with one another against the devastation of sin.
So is it weakening the Gospel to not call someone to full and immediate repentance for every sign of sin we see working through their lives?
1) Our ability to properly and fully diagnose another’s soul is limited at best. I believe we can stand with others to the degree we understand them and our own brokenness, but it is important to understand that we are not the Healer. We may be more familiar with the patterns of the Healer, and we can graciously share what has worked for us and others we have loved. But I believe the posture of this is as an advocate and not an expert.
2) In the same way that the cure to our natural diseases require rest, nutrition, time, and multiple regimens of treatment, it is a process of healing and restoration our souls have embarked on. We are BEING saved, though have yet to understand the freedom or full restoration and security. It is not due to the weakness of the cure, but rather our own frailty that we embark on a process, a journey of healing.
3) Fundamentally, our understanding of our value is not a characteristic of our individual value alone, but is only fully understood as we see the value of others. Our own process of healing requires that we see our place within the world and understand the value of our community. This cannot be achieved through an “us vs them” mentality. It is only through seeing our common struggle and loving others on their way to healing that we can be restored. If we believe we can attain restoration or holiness through control of our own behavior and thoughts, we fundamentally misunderstand the value of holiness and restoration. Light is not the absence of darkness. In the same way, the work of love and radiating goodness is not the product of an isolated journey of cleaning ourselves. The fullness of good is bigger than any of us will ever understand on our own.
Sin and restoration need a new framework. The way we engage one another for far too long has been about furthering the power of shame at the expense of our communal restoration.
From Genesis 3:
“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’? ”
The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”
“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”
He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.””
One of the most detrimental developments in American Christianity has been the emergence of the association of a specific belief system with a specific political party. Christians have not consistently played well with others. In some cases we have reached out to tragedy-stricken people and restored them, giving them another chance to survive with dignity. In the worst cases, we have led the charge for book burnings, preserved racial stereotypes, and abused others in the name of maintaining power. I think you can easily argue that the latter situation clearly is indicative of someone claiming Christianity as a social status, while not embracing the teachings of Christ (to love your neighbor). But still, the impression exists that we bring both life and death, both healing and judgment. We embrace political action that endorses the sanctity of some life and policies that reject others.
The two-party system in America has limited innovation and encouraged defensive political posturing. Rarely are ideas new, factual, and all too often are reeling from a spin. The story is told (by the media, the politicians, their staff, etc.) that there is only one source to our problem and only one answer. Further, it is spun in such a way that we are led to believe that our communities are on the verge of falling into anarchy or poverty if the problem is not addressed.
In most cases we are given such lobotomized versions of the facts, that the generally uneducated and self-interested public assume what they are told is right, true, and actionable. We have formed alignments around buzz words and soundbites. We mentally and emotionally cut off the opinions of our neighbors if they use a vocabulary that we have recognized as that of the enemy. We mentally consent that all of _______ is bad and all of _______ is good. Rarely does life play out that way. In the name of recognizing the threat of the enemy, we liberally apply labels to diagnosis any thinking that does not conform to that of our team.
In the name of influencing the system from the top, many religious leaders attempted to get their interests heard by appealing to whichever party would embrace their special interests. Hot button issues like gay marriage, abortion, and illegal immigration became the polarizing issues. Simply put, it was easier for the masses to embrace a few issues and claim that they are voting with their faith rather than evaluate the breadth of a faith that encompasses the fullness of love and the magnificence of creation. Rather, a few factoids on why X is the party of those that love babies and why Y is the party of those that eat babies is sufficient for most.
By catering to the partisan spin, you continue to empower the polarization of problems and solutions. By training your heart to react in fear, hatred, and disdain to those with different opinions, beliefs, or vocabulary, you further division and endorse abuse.
Far too often ignorant, lazy Christians throughout history have embraced the spin from the top, and only the passage of time has revealed the rampant abuses allowed by their endorsement through cowardice. I am not calling for a revolution, but rather love for the sake of peace, and education for the sake of understanding. Our communities cannot and will not be rebuilt when we are willing to endorse policies that fundamentally enforce suffering and endorse only scraps of our faith at the expense of cutting off love.
I would recommend one of two choices. Either:
1) Turn off all news, pray, meditate, and take a walk around your community. Vote from a place of peace and not fear. If you do not have the desire or resources to educate yourself, then at least guard your motivations and make a decision that is motivated from peace and security.
2) Invest in loving your neighbors by educating yourself from multiple sources. Train yourself to be as shrewd as a serpent, but guard your heart to remain your innocence and hope. Then from a place of seeing a broad picture, pray, meditate, and find peace in God. Vote for whomever you believe will maintain peace in the midst of diverse and trying times. Vote for policies that long-term will bring restoration and hope. Guard yourself from voting for the policies of the moment that are particularly framed in fear, threats, and intimidation.
Further, more than anything, I would encourage Christians around America to get off their ass and love their neighbor (whether or not you vote). There is no great battle that will ever be won by attempting to legislate your specific interpretation of a moral code while those that live around you see nothing but judgment and a lack of relevance. Influence is not to be stolen from the spotlight, but rather won as you demonstrate that your love is greater than your fear in practical, intelligent ways.
If we really want to change in 2012, this will not be accomplished by catering to the same problems and answers we have been provided for the past decades (albeit in different fashions and with different spokespeople). Change will not come by meditating on fear of all we might lose if we don’t vote to protect what we hold dear. If we really want something different in 2012, we need to reorient our own priorities, carve out time, finances, and mental/emotional/social resources to give our lives to represent the love of Christ, a belief in redemption, and a hope that is not threatened by the political spin. We need to invest more energy in intentionally loving others as we have been loved by our chief official, our King. We have been forgiven much, and we should overflow with gratitude to such an extent that in the midst of a crisis, others look at us and long to understand the security we have found that is not tied to each new passing breeze of policy or political spin.
This year I would ask you to participate in the political process differently. When you find yourselves caught up in a conversation with co-workers that have bit the baited hook of the recent spin, stand for peace, hope, and love in their midst. Listen deeper than what they have been told is threatening them to hear what it is they love. However you vote politically, you may find that what you hold dear, they also hold dear. Let us make the conversation about hope, community, cooperation, and love that will not quit despite what this next administration looks like. We will not win by putting our dream team in office. Let me say that again. We will not win by taking over government or dissolving it. We will win when we make love our Lord and impeach the fear that has reigned over our minds and impeded our love for our neighbors.
As we welcome our second little girl, I was reflecting on the past few years and how our relationship has changed. I feel like we have grown significantly, not necessarily that we are clearly better than where we were, but that we have grown well together. We are no longer the lovesick dating couple we once were, or the newlywed couple that felt the need to talk about our relationship several times a day. We have grown into a team that seems to be somewhat successfully loving and raising a family together, and still finds rest and joy in one another in the midst of it.
With that said, I thought it might be helpful to share some of the best things we did or didn’t do early on. This is not meant to be a perfect list, but rather, this is what worked for us and maybe it will work for you too. Most of these things never come up anymore because we have grown past the need for them. I am not really arranging them in any specific order, just as I think of them. Anyway, enjoy and I wish for you success in growing in your love with someone.
1. No games. Simply put, games that dare the other person to respond to you in a specific way are manipulative and breakdown communication. They send the message that you are not secure enough about your own hangups to talk about them, but rather are more willing to toy with someone else in the name of protecting your fears than you are to sacrifice your sense of security to love the other person well. If you are serious about a healthy relationship, communicate intentionally whenever you have the courage to talk about your fears, wants, or hangups.
2. Keep no score. I know some couples work really well always keeping a list of who picked the restaurant last or who endured the recent romantic comedy movie. Not us. I think relationships work best when both people walk into it choosing to give because the relationship is valuable to them. We work best when we are both willing to give when we see the other person needs help or some cheering up.
3. Treat the relationship like a third party. When you are pissed off at your significant other, you can make decisions that are for the good of the relationship. In the same way, you can check your decisions before you make them by asking, “Will this be good for the relationship?” By framing your relationship this way, it allows you to be objective when your feelings tell you otherwise.
4. Place a statute of limitations on bringing up offenses. Pick a period of time 3 to 7 days (not more than a week) where you agree that you will bring up something the other person did that offended or hurt you that they were seemingly unaware of. If you do not bring it up in that time period, you have to let it go and forgive them. It cannot be ammunition for a future argument. If you choose to not bring it up, it is your responsibility to drop it and forgive.
5. Love is the trump card. If you find yourself stuck in an argument, don’t agree to disagree. Stop arguing your positions and decide that the most important outcome is loving one another, not drawing a line between your perspectives. Some things unfold over time, and some things fade entirely. Forcing some kind of resolution or peace treaty in a single conversation may leave you feeling like you have control over your position, but it usually also means you have placed distance between you and your loved one unnecessarily.
6. Shoot for four good days out of seven. Because of busyness, the human condition, our own self-centeredness, and the unpredictability of life, it is simply unreasonable to expect that the relationship will be so good that you notice it every day of the week. If you hit four good days a week, feel good about the relationship. You can make yourself miserable over-exaggerating each little bump in the road or boring day while not celebrating the good in the relationship.
7. For dating couples, look for someone where you feel like you can:
- Accept their daily flow of life (it’s not likely to change much, so if it drives you nuts now, it will drive you nuts later). Remember you will be roommates far more of the time than lovers.
- Respect who they are today. If you cannot respect who a person is today, then you are likely to de-valuate their opinion in any major choices that you might make together later.
- Share 70-80% of their worldview and faith. It may not come up when you are dating, but it will in nearly every major decision you will make later.
- Fit your major dreams together. If one of you dreams of a family and the other does not, then one of you will be miserable for a large portion of your life.
8. Forgive, forgive, forgive. Simply put, expect disappointment and pain as you share life together. It is inevitable. You must commit your own heart to trying again tomorrow.
9. Do not expect to find your perfect mate. There is no such thing. There is only the person who you choose to love each day and chooses to love you back each day. Both of you will continue to change and grow. It is impossible to expect a perfect match for all that you are today and might be tomorrow.
10. Those who keep showing up win. This is not only for romantic relationships, but all of life. Those who keep contributing themselves will bring influence.
All too often I have had conversations with Christians that carry a lingering since of unfulfilled failure. They pictured themselves as a quarterback in the big game and found themselves sitting on the bench, or worse, in the stands. The American church, particularly revival-oriented churches, has indoctrinated their members, with a particular focus on youth, that a life of faith equates to a life of supernatural outcomes and visible, immediate answers to prayer. Those that live by faith are followed by a stream of miracles and tidy answered prayers. Youth are indoctrinated that if they prayed enough and witnessed effectively, their whole school would “come to God”. The world would be changed, if only God would act.
I have known too many that embraced this expectation for their life and have live haunted by a sense of unfulfilled destiny and a deep discontentment toward a non-responsive God.
Now my take on scripture is that it is clear that God can break the pattern of the world and perform miracles, and in many circumstances a person of faith served as a catalyst for the miracle. However, I think reading scripture as a manual for what normal life should be tends to leave someone discontented with anything that appears ordinary. Plus, we all tend to read the scripture like it is unabridged when functionally we are getting the cliff notes version. We seem to forget that we are seeing a highlights reel, and not a live feed. There are very few biblical characters that we get to see over decades, and the few that we do, like Moses, David, and Solomon, do not look so great over time. Those that we see more of have epic mistakes in their lives or decades of inactivity.
My point here is that we overly emphasize the miraculous, to the expense of valuing the simple. Even Jesus spent decades working with his hands in a small rural community. He appeared so normal within his community that his neighbors outright rejected the idea that he might be a great teacher, miracle worker, and especially messiah later. Why would the son of God waste his life on the mundane when He could have been performing miracles for an additional 30 years?
In his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul recommended, “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” This stands in stark contrast to what many have come to expect as a life of faith.
If I could challenge anything, it would be the disdain that so many Christians have for the “ordinary”. We assume that because we are crying out for more, that we are crying out for God (under the assumption that only the supernatural qualifies as “of God”). If we believe that life was created by God, then we have to also accept that God has embedded Himself in all that was created, much like it impossible for an artist to hide his/her perspective and skill in art. Creation itself is a reflection of intentionality, character, and love. It looks forward as it leaves something for others to experience. To maintain a perspective that only that which breaks the boundaries of creation is God is to reject God himself. It is comparable to seeing an artist’s signature and denying them the recognition of their work (i.e. I’ve seen this before, so it doesn’t count). Rejection of a simple life (i.e. a life working with what He provided for us) is rejecting God.
What we are compelled to do, instead of building a false sense of expectation for more, is to train our souls to perceive all that is good and God in our midst. Panentheism (God in all things) would compel us to hunt to find God in all things. He is present to be found and appreciated. He is always present to redeem. Training our hearts to be satisfied with how God is currently revealed in our life is part of a life of faith. It is critical to releasing inordinate expectations that God must always show Himself supernaturally to be worthy of our love and faith.
The pitfall of a panentheistic view, is the attribution of all that is negative, destructive, and dying to God. To say that all that is bad is directly performed, controlled, or allowed by God would be similar to holding Microsoft liable for every hateful email that has been sent by Outlook. God has created a world that allows and invites creativity and response. The ability to create is a reflection of the creator, but it does not mean that all that we create reflects the creator’s perspective. I feel like there needs to be a disclaimer on life, “The views expressed by _______ are not necessarily the views of the Creator.”
We are compelled to find peace in our life by developing a faith that is not thrown by pleasure or pain. We are invited to grow our ability to perceive God however He is displayed and discern where His love is displayed around us. Our tendency is to equate all that is pleasurable, supernatural, or financially good for our lives as God. God is fundamentally good and loving, but even as His nature is revealed, we are invited to surrender our expectation to dictate what good and loving would mean in our own life.
If anything history has shown us time and time again that when God breaks from the norm and does something supernatural or “extra good”, we make it about us. We claim it as a direct endorsement for our belief system, racial preference, way of life, political affiliation, sexual behavior, or financial management. A never ending line of destructive abuses exists where man has claimed preferential status because of God’s endorsement. We simply do not handle power well, ever.
If someone wanted to truly prepare themselves to be a catalyst for God, the biblical pattern seems to indicate that you should prepare yourselves for decades of silence, the possibility of persecution, publication of your personal failures, and the likelihood that you will give your life to a faith that may never show any visible rewards during your life (Hebrews 11:39-40). And should you find yourself in the situation of something supernatural happening in your midst, you will likely make the same kind of mistakes we see in scripture.
It is because of this risk and propensity to abuse power for our own gain, that we must train our hearts to be content in all situations. Our identity is not tied to outcomes. Our identity is stable because it is founded on an unshakeable love and an unbeatable redemption. Our surrender of expectations for the next miracle is not a loss of faith, but a sign of growth. God can always act outside of the way creation works. Scripture is absolutely clear on that. However, if we are to ever respond freely to an answer to prayer, we have to surrender our expectation that we be validated by the outcome. A life of faith is a life of surrender to whatever we are given and a response of gratitude to who God is despite the outcome.
You are not disenfranchised. You are not abandoned by God. Rather you trained your own heart to be discontent. You will only find peace and freedom to live a life of faith when you are willing to relinquish your demand for God to validate His love for you by the outcomes of your life.
Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people? Why does cancer exist? Why do relationships unravel so easily and are rarely fixed? Why did I get laid off? Why did they break up with me? Why was I rejected? Why did they hate me? Why was I born poor? Why was I born rich? Why?
It’s not that there are no easy answers. Sometimes there are no answers. There are limitations that limit our reach of knowledge, control, and understanding. Mankind is oddly powerful… so much so that God has allowed us the ability to support life or end it. Yet with each passing generation and with each new scientific advancement, there remains a lingering bit of information just out of our reach. And even when we had the ability to understand so much, the information arrives too late to prevent suffering, pain, or loss.
All too often Christianity has been packaged as the answer for everything. There is a book, sermon, or class that will surely provide the answer to any situation someone might endure. We greet other suffering saints with pithy sayings wrestled from scripture and t-shirts: “All things work together for good Sister.” “This must be part of God’s perfect plan for your life.”
Sometimes there is no reason. There is no explanation to the suffering. There are too many cooks in the kitchen to know who added what to say why we are here today.
Further, I would contest our deeply seated belief that God has a “perfect plan” for everyone’s life. I do not believe that He is ignorant of what we enjoy or endure. Though I believe that all too often we apply our own interpretation of what is good or perfect to our life, and when the outcomes jump from the expectation, we are left with scraps of hope and faith, splintered from the suffering we never expected.
God’s love is perfect. His ability to redeem and restore is unending. Sometimes there is no equation that expresses how we got to where we are at. In these moments we are invited into surrendering our strength, our hopes, and our pain to Him.
As long as we shake our fists in the air and demand an answer to the why, we live tormented without peace. We live scarred with the inability to develop new hope. We forget how to love like a child and become colder, calculating, pierced by the unexpected pain of an unmet desire. We teach our hearts to live within the bounds of what we can reasonably control, and we tell others that this is the sign of maturity, growth, and solidity.
We are scarred, cold, closed, and unloving… unsensing, dull, efficient, professional, practiced…
We have lost our ability to love and be loved at the altar of the edge of our understanding. We said in our own hearts that we will only have a faith we can fully comprehend and accept a God that fits into our understanding of life. We will go as far as we can fully understand it all, but no further.
We memorialize our suffering, not our healing. We develop sophisticated scientific terms for the baggage we carry, and compare our damage to others like badges of honor.
Sometimes there is no answer, no easy way to package causes and effects.
In scripture, there was a man named Job that for all accounts was successful and deeply spiritual. He was exemplary. In a moment, his family, his possessions, his home… they were taken from him without explanation. His friends told him that it was because of the compromise in his life. Later they said he should just curse God and die. Job, in a fully understandable moment of pain and honesty, asked God why.
God did not answer Job. At least not as he expected.
God responded to Job with a question. Were you there when I created all of this?
Job’s silence was palpable. A lump in his throat, eyes raw from crying, he chose once again to surrender and worship God. He fell to the ground and let go of his demand for an answer.
Sometimes we are left nothing but mystery. The answer to our pain is beyond our ability to comprehend, control, and contain.
In these moments, the only freedom and peace we will find is through the door of surrendering our right to an answer.
Is it fair? No.
Is it pretty? No.
Will it provide an answer to our pain?
God’s ability to redeem and restore is unending. I cannot say to you how it will look for you. I can say the practice of surrendering our right to comprehend it all is the only way we will find healing, freedom, and the ability to experience love in the midst of the inexplicable and unjustifiable. We must train ourselves to accept the mystery of what we cannot know, and out of this, we will learn to love again, but in a way that is not tied to the outcome of our expectations. We will learn to love freely as we give up our demand for an outcome and understanding.