Thursday, August 1, 2013

“Shadows, darkness, and dead-ends”

As children we are taught to imagine life through fairytale eyes.  The dragons are always slain, the princess is rescued every time, and, the bad guys face the music.  This spills over into our faith.  Our Sunday school and VBS Bible stories are all safe and sanitary.  A typical sermon series has “seven easy steps” to happiness... or some similar cliche.   The message we send is clear: The good guys always win and if you do the right thing, you’ll never suffer.  I guess happy endings sell.

Sadly, there are Country & Western Songs from Johnny Cash or David Allan Coe that do a better job than most Sunday mornings do at hitting the nail on the head.  The factory does close down, spouses do leave, life doesn’t always go our way.  So, I’m not so sure we are doing such a great job at either accurately describing reality or equipping Christians.  

Eventually, we grow up, but the childhood dream dies a slow hard death.  Life gets fuzzy and we wonder as we face fears and pain, and sometimes doubt gnaws on our soul -- mercilessly.  When we don’t do too well at acknowledging, embracing, or accepting pain and suffering, we contrive all sorts of Theodicies.  

We need to be more considerate when it comes to our efforts at comforting others, “Whoever sings songs to a heavy heart is like one who takes off a garment on a cold day, and like vinegar on soda.” (Proverbs 25:20 ESV)  You should have your mouth washed out with soap if you ever quote Romans 8:28 to someone who is in the middle a tragedy.  

I think we do ourselves a disservice when we offer trite answers to the paradox of the problem of suffering.  It’s easy to spout “reasons” why a loving God would allow cancer to ravish the body, until you watch a loved waste away.  It’s one thing to talk in abstract terms about suffering from a distance, but it’s another thing when we have a concrete case of real gratuitous-evil engulfing us.  

I’m doubtful we’ll ever find a waterproof answer to why God allows suffering.  I’m not saying He doesn’t have His reasons, but I doubt I’ll find one I could articulate.  I do know this much, when I read the Bible satan was already in the Garden when Adam & Eve started strolling around.  Job wasn’t given any answers after his tragic turn of events, not one, but he was apparently satisfied in the end.  Jesus was predicted to be a “Man of sorrows,” in Isaiah 53:3.  Then there’s the Book of Habakkuk to mull over.  Paul seemed to be convinced that if we claimed the Christian life, we were guaranteed to be persecuted in II Timothy 3:12.  And, the Book of Revelation has its share of information on the suffering of believers.  The Bible doesn’t give easy answers -- it doesn’t pretend like we live in a Utopian world either.

Instead of trying to offer insufficient answers, maybe we need to learn how the Bible, the Word of God, leads us in the darkness.  This is all to say, the Bible doesn’t avoid or deny the reality of suffering, but the Scriptures have outlets for our suffering: Lamenting.  

There are dark, disturbing passages of Scripture that have purpose and meaning, beyond trying to provide simple “answers” to our questions.  For example: In Ist Kings 19, Elijah curls up under the broom tree and begs God to take his life.  Jeremiah’s book of Lamentations uses heartwrenching poetry, as he mourns over the destruction of God’s footstool.  Understanding the 22nd Psalm and its expressions of betrayal and abandonment, apparently by the hand of God, or trying to express the depths of despair in the 88th Psalm as God seems cruel and distant -- that would be nearly impossible.  The Book of Job is raw with emotion and abounds in profound questions. Maybe there’s a good example worth following in these examples?  I think God has big shoulders, and in most of these passages, people get more than a little gruff with God when asking “WHY?” and He seems to understand.  He seems to enter into our suffering too...

Sooner or later life gets hard, “curse-word” hard if we want to be honest.  We bring plenty of trouble upon ourselves and then there are the bleak days when calamity and catastrophe hits out of the blue.  Life isn’t always cheery, satisfaction isn’t guaranteed, and we can’t escape pain.  I like the question Lynn Anderson raises in his book, "Talking back to God"" Lynn writes on page 70, “For years I have advocated praise teams to help lead us in worship.  I still do, of course, but I have been wondering if we don’t also need “lament teams” sometimes.”   

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