It has been tough to know what to say anymore with the dark clouds of Ukraine’s heroic suffering filling the sky. The barbaric cruelty and senseless futility of Russian atrocities steal words and paralyze the mind – incredulous, how, why? So many questions. Are we helping? Are we watching too passively? Are we wise? Are we bold? Are we making excuses and afraid? Are we part of the solution or part of the problem? It’s hard to believe what we are witnessing.
The events unfolding certainly give one a deep appreciation and empathy for those who endured the First and Second World Wars, and many other wars around the world and down the ages. The uncertainty and horror, not knowing how it ends as battles stretch close to breaking over years and mountains of corpses. “Never again,” we said. But yet…
Many (or few) returned from battlefields shattered and scarred, faith in God torn to bits by the shrapnel of war that some found impossible to recover from. It’s not hard to understand. I have no wise words or easy answers – as platitudes, so tempting, choke in my throat. It’s easy to change the channel and watch the Masters Golf Championship softly wrapped in the green and fuchsia of Augusta and be lost there instead. Then guilt whispers, because what about those who cannot escape or flip the channel?
There’s many a time I have railed at God because he seems so absent or impotent in the moment. On a sand dune outside Cape Town when witnessing squatter camps demolished. At the bedside of a 23 year old girl dying of leukemia – where’s the miracle, Jesus!? Seasons and sorrows in my life – you probably have yours. To live is to feel, to believe is to risk, to love courts hurt, to try involves failing, to love justice and fairness exposes lies and corruption, and so on it goes.
The light shines in the darkness – and is not overcome. How I wish it were as easy to live consistently as it is to name and to write. There’s a reason why the psalmist declares, “I lift me eyes unto the hills, where my help and hope comes from.” Sometimes it’s hard to believe as well.
On Palm Sunday Christians remember Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, the ultimate symbol of peace. The crowds cheered and waved palm branches joyfully anticipating a revolution in the making, at last liberation from the hated Roman oppressors. By the end of the week the same one who was greeted with such acclaim was hung on a Cross after flogging and torture. The same crowd swapped allegiance and preferred a convicted criminal, Barabbas to go free and Jesus to die. Why? Too hard to believe. Jesus did not lead a revolution to overthrow the Romans, he let them down, he refused to engage with violence and revenge. The crowd turned quickly and fiercely.
I can do the same. Turn on a dime when things don’t go as I hoped. It doesn’t have to be just or fair, right, or even good. God’s on a short leash in my world – and I’ve leaped to deny or crucify more times than I’d like to admit. There is so much about life and the living of it that doesn’t add up, I can’t explain, and is a genuine mystery to my fallible and ever so limited understanding.
Yet, despite all that vexes, the truth that holds and attracts me is the vein of gold embedded in the mess, the mix up, the confusion, and too often the blatant unfairness of it all. God’s love. A love that never gives up, never blindfolds or muzzles, never censors or turns away. A love that refuses to be snuffed out and shines defiantly, no matter the darkness around. That was the life of Jesus. It has always attracted me, challenged me, comforted me, and shone, no matter what, through thick and thin. It is truth, a bedrock, a guiding light, a sign of my never being alone. Despite all the darkness the evidence for his reality is compelling – and when explored is not so hard to believe, certainly easier than the alternatives. A symbol of hope rising high above in the darkness, a defiant declaration that there is more to life than you , and me, and them, and us.
This week after Palm Sunday is when God himself walked the front line of the human battle with evil and laid down his life to save us. Peel away any human behavior and behind every fruit there will be roots planted in good or buried in evil. Whatever we pay attention to is what will grow and flourish. Freedom is having the opportunity to choose, to taste and see, and to live with the consequences – a thousand times a day. No-one gets to observe, sit on the fence, opt out, or not be involved. Being alive means we are included, up to our necks in the mix, impacting and influencing those around us and beyond. Sometimes we are very aware, much of the time we probably have no idea how wide those ripples spread as our choices drop like pebbles into life. We are part of the problem and part of the solution – free to choose, again and again – with consequences.
In Luke 11 Jesus is teaching about the nature and reality of evil. After listening to him someone cried out from the crowd, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.” We’re always doing that. Holding others up as examples, and keeping ourselves at a distance. Venerating a person and humbly professing that we could never be like that – good or bad.
Jesus gently replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” In other words don’t admire me or my teaching and switch channels. Apply, be involved, work ‘me/God’ out in your daily life and relationships – and contribute to be light in the battle to overcome what is corrupt and evil.
That’s why I don’t blame God for all the darkness in the world. I look in the mirror, I look at the Cross, and I ask God, my loving Father, to not give up on me. Do the change in me that will contribute even with my tiny pixel of light to making the world a better place. I have to start with him in order to have hope, every other solution shaped by human hands and minds inevitably crumbles and has been disappointing. Which is why songs like the ones below are helpful – every day. God’s love is like gravity, constant and unchanging. But me, not so much. I need help to believe, often.