His face was gaunt and his eyes pierced with grief and questions. The wide grin and crinkle-smile lines were absent as I tugged his arm and said, “How are you?”
He was caught in hesitation between rudeness and politeness and he honored me with authenticity. “I’m sick of blessings, when will this really change? I’m going ….” And my friend left the church and headed home, still filled within pain in his body and emotions, and alone.
His honest wrestling with God, Church, and Christians is everywhere. Many merely withdraw and stuff anger and disappointment beneath polite resignation. Others fashion, copy, or create elaborate rationalizations about how God uses suffering, is teaching them, or is much too busy with more important matters in the universe. Some prefer to swim close to the surface and seldom dive deep to question. They declare God’s goodness no matter what (which is true but not always helpful) and stay busy without letting the scratchy questioning cat out of the bag.
Fortunately for us there are those who swim and dive and embrace the chaos of life and faith. They refuse to be beaten down or to ‘give up’. They acknowledge exasperation and confusion, the seeming unfairness, and the mystery around God filled with why’s, when’s, and how come?
How would you respond to my tormented friend? As the year comes to an end and another one breaks the surface with fresh anticipation in a jaded, rather cynical and fragmented world?
Look around. Politics is chaotic, politicians seem more self-serving than altruistic. There’s war, brutality, earthquakes, fires, volcanic eruptions. starvation, disease, exploitation, sex-trafficking, drug overdoses, corruption, family break ups – and it’s everywhere.
Look around again. There’s acts of kindness, charity, courage, fire-fighters, open homes, servant hearts, humility that never makes the news, perseverance, joy in the strangest of places and faces, hope amidst ashes, forgiveness and mercy shining in darkness. And it’s everywhere!
It’s the same world with quite different perspectives. And where’s God?
Where’s He’s always been. All around, in the midst, above, below, before and beyond.
“Then why can’t I see Him?”
“What are you looking for? Do you know that elephants disguise themselves by wearing dark glasses?”
“Don’t be silly.”
“Have you ever seen an elephant with dark glasses?”
“Shows how effective the disguise is.”
“What’s this got to do with seeing God?”
“Not much. Just want to make you smile and consider that He may be right beside you now… not hiding in plain sight. Sometimes we need help to see what we don’t know how to interpret. Like a trapper following a trail, just a bent twig, broken ground…. I had no idea!”
Invariably, when we’re drowning in our pain and questions all we often see is the tangible world around us. Mountains of evidence fueling doubt, abandonment, and an uncaring facsimile of a god who doesn’t exist.
“What do you mean?”
“Quite often our perception of God is the product or our past disappointments, broken relationships, and struggle with coming to terms with ‘what we’d hoped…’ We can never find God through the lens of suffering, or from the vantage point of our life on earth amidst such distortion, evil and brokenness. Life’s too unfair and complicated to make much sense at ground level most of the time.”
“Then how ‘on earth’ do we see, find, or know God when everything seems to be shit and going to hell in a hand basket?”
“It’s far easier to begin with Him. You know? Revelation of who He is independent of our lives and circumstances. Remember? The meaning of Christmas? God’s gift? His Son? Jesus? Remember Jesus saying, “If you’ve seen me you’ve seen the Father.”?”
Sometimes we’re way too hard on one another, impatient, and lacking empathy. The first disciples struggled as we do with believing and faith. Jesus lived among them, walked with them and shared meals and life, day and night. They witnessed His miracles of healing first hand and the hope and confidence in His Father that determined How He lived. The context in Roman-occupied Jerusalem and Galilee was no picnic or ‘peace on earth’ for the Son of God. In fact it led to His rejection, betrayal and crucifixion.
Those disciples would never have come to know the love of God and His power and presence without the human presence of Jesus. The Christians that followed shared through their lives and relationships the same ongoing reality, power and hope of a good God in the midst of a messy world.
What do we say to our friends, or ourselves, as perhaps we endure a time of struggle, and grey, and not much hope for the New Year? Not as much as I’ve written, that’s for sure. Just be a friend, love them where they are, listen to them, and keep letting them know in the mystery of your friendship that they are valued and not alone. In your own heart and spirit begin with God’s revelation of love in Jesus and allow that identity, as a much loved son or daughter. to spread outward.
If you don’t know God or have never experienced His love then read about Him in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (the Bible). Ask God to make Himself real, or to re-awaken a love that’s become angry or worn out. Share your heart and pain and disappointment with Him, uncensored, raw, and honest. And please, find someone to talk to in the flesh, who can listen well.
But don’t stop there; panting at the end of your diatribe. Listen. Maybe He’ll hold you tight in His strange and wonderful supernatural embrace. Perhaps you’ll shed some tears – let them flow. Then receive His affirmation and love for you before anything around you has changed. Allow the promise of His presence and love encourage you to anticipate good changes in the New Year. Not based on whistling in the dark or upon sullen resignation, but rooted in the person of Jesus and His promise of faithfulness to you.
Perhaps read Paul’s timeless words from Roman 8:38-39
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Therein lies our hope, our faith, and our expectation for the New Year. Where my friend struggles to see or know that, he can lean on me (as I have leaned on others) and I’ll hold it for him and with him until it becomes his own again. And in the strangest of ways our shared journey becomes my blessing as well.
May there be an abundance of friendships in the New Year that will enable us to see and experience Jesus in the here and now amidst good, bad, or ugly circumstances. Eyes to see, ears to hear, lips to praise, hearts to love, faith to believe what we do not yet……
Here’s a well-known song to help…… played loud, or not….