One night, while enduring said chorus from a church lobby, a young woman said to me, “What about all those people in there who feel like God has let them down?” I responded with something equivalent to, “Preach it, sister.”
Then, because it was, after all, a worship song, we had to suffer through about 5,763 more rounds of the chorus….which was long enough for me to compose most of this blog post in my head.
I often hear people say something like, “Joy is eternal. You can’t always be happy but you can always have joy.”
Lately, I feel the opposite. I can laugh with family and friends, smile to greet someone I know, enjoy a dinner out or a walk through my garden. But those happy moments drift unsupported over a dark abyss. I have no joy.
I want to believe God when He says Joy comes in the morning but there is no joy in this mourning. In this mourning, emptiness reigns, like a void that devours light and robs breath from your lungs.
Even in the midst of blessings, of sunshine and daisies and ice cream at the farm and family movies and just being an American with clean water and shelter and food in the pantry, I can be happy – grateful even – but I have no joy.
Does this make me a bad Christian? Is my faith too small? Am I far from God?
The pain burns, stings, like a thousand cuts carved into my skin, on my hands, my feet, across my chest, my stomach, my back. I can almost feel the blood oozing out like tears – my whole body weeps. My whole body weeps, shudders, shakes. I need to vomit. To expel this wretched wrong. This thing I can’t undo. This end. Which is an ending I never would have written but was written for me instead – for us all – but most of all, for him.
I am raw and broken. And sick. So sick. Only I can’t throw it up. There’s always more – more pain, more sorrow, more regret churning and burning its way through my soul.
Oh God. How can you ask me? How can you ask me to do this?
You color me in and then erase me. Drain me. To the dregs. And dregs are all I have left.
But You can’t blame me. I can blame me. I can be angry and live with regrets and could haves and should haves and would haves. But not You. Because You let this happen. You did. There’s no denying it.
So when I am nothing, when I am just sludge and scar tissue, You won’t ask why. You won’t dare look at me with surprise. You can’t possibly be surprised. You know the end from the beginning. You knew this. You knew this day. You knew this pain, too.
What if I can’t forgive You? What then? What if You and me are never the same? What have You done? Could You destroy “us”? Would You?
I think somewhere deep inside I know the answers, but today the pain is louder. Like the roaring winds of a hurricane. I hear nothing else. I feel nothing else. I am deaf to all but the screaming of my soul as I am peeled apart, layer by layer, flesh torn open and packed with salt.
Here, truth and comfort are merely words, tiny letters which, rearranged, can mean anything…or nothing at all. Meaningless. Meaningless. I spin around the eye of the storm. There is nothing but the pain.
I wrote the following piece of fiction in response to the Weekly Writing Challenge: Traces, in which we were encouraged to talk about leaving our mark. Interestingly enough, I posted on a similar topic in January. As WWC posts are supposed to be written specifically for the challenge, I have created something new (below). If you would like to read my non-fiction thoughts on the subject, feel free to visit YOLO or YOLOL | A Post for the New Year.
With her finger, she traces the engraved letters, one at a time.
The stone feels cold. Cold and hard. And final.
That’s all. The rest had worn away. It was a long time ago for this world that forgets so quickly. And yet for her…
He was young and strong and strong-willed. She loved him instantly. She watched him for months before he noticed her. And even then, only because she wanted him to. His training was over and he would leave soon for the war. She knew she shouldn’t, but she did it anyway.
He sat alone at the bar, staring into his drink, his right leg shaking anxiously. She’d been studying him long enough to know that he wasn’t worried; he was impatient and excited, but not worried. Like so many others, he was eager for battle, for a chance to make a difference, to give his life for what he believed in.
She, however, had seen too many wars. Not dozens or hundreds, but thousands. Thousands upon thousands. Her heart, drenched and heavy with the blood of a million men, felt light when she looked at him – his dark hair and bronzed skin offset by bright, green eyes. His earthiness, his humanity pulled her toward him.
He started when he saw her. It was as if she had just appeared in the seat next to him. He stared, speechless, at first. Her beauty…it was otherworldly. Golden-red hair tumbled in waves over her bare, fair shoulders and her eyes were the most unusual purple-grey. He felt himself relax into her smile, as if he’d known her all his life.
“You smell like lavender,” he breathed.
“I…what?” she laughed, almost embarrassed.
“You just…I’m sorry…I just,” He let out a sigh and smiled. “Hi.”
“Hi,” she smiled back.
Three days was all they had. Three days.
Confident and maybe a little naive , as the young so often are, he kissed her tears and promised to come back for her. As he walked away, she let him think he was leaving her. Let him think she’d be there when he returned…if he returned.
Sometime later, he saw her again. She’d been watching, as she was destined to do. In the fighting and the fury, among the gunfire and the screaming, she glided, seeing but unseen. Watching, waiting. And choosing. She had no choice but to choose.
Just as she brushed her hand over the terrified eyes of a soldier too young to be a man, closing them forever, she heard him. His screams tore into her. His humanity, again, drawing her to him, above him, by his side.
She understood instantly, as her kind always does, that his wounds, while not fatal, were devastating. And so she chose.
He lay on his back, his face waxing pale as the agony began to overwhelm him. But his eyes, darting back and forth, searching the gun-metal sky, glistened green like springtime. He began to call her name.
And then, because she wanted him to, he saw her. His anxious eyes settled on her face and his body slackened. With her fingertips, she brushed the hair away from his face, so he could see her better. And at her touch, his breathing calmed.
“You…smell like…lavender,” he whispered with a playful smile.
She intended to laugh, but a sob escaped in its place.
“Hey. Don’t cry. It’s OK. See? I promised you I’d come back. And here I am.”
Swallowing her tears, she replied, “And here you are.”
She gazed into his eyes for a long moment before resting a hand on either side of his bloodstained face. She leaned into him and touched her lips to his. They were cold, as she knew they would be.
But hers were warm. Warm and soft and gentle and painless and….
…for her, it seems like days, hours even, though more than a hundred years and thousands of battles and countless souls have passed. Yet, she would never forget, could never forget.
She holds the lavender close and, taking a deep breath, fills herself with the earthiness. Then, just as she positions the purple and green flowers beneath his name, she’s gone.
“I am intellectually empty and vacant.” Those are the words one minister spoke to his congregation last Sunday. Not as a man without hope, but as one honestly acknowledging that he had come to the end of himself. There was nothing that the intellectual, rational part of his being could do with the tragedy of Newtown, Connecticut.
We are all a little desperate today.
The following, somewhat paraphrased, quote from the movie Love Comes Softly, keeps running through my mind:
“When we’re hurting, we spend an awful lot of time looking for answers, when what we really need is comfort.”
I believe we need that truth now more than ever.
Now, as the shock wears off and the anger surfaces. Now, while we search for someone to punish. Now, when we are grasping for reason. Clinging to frayed hopes for humanity. Now, as we race to protect our children and ourselves. As we try to control the uncontrollable, rationalize the irrational and console the inconsolable.
Now – when we are searching, desperately searching for answers, we must remember where to look.
I have wrestled with pain before – pain that the world can do nothing to ease. I have searched for answers. I have railed against God. Pounded on His chest and screamed, “WHY?!!!”
Then God asked me: “What answer would satisfy you?”
So, I imagined the God of the universe standing before me and saying, “Nichole, you have suffered because ______.” But every word I used to fill in the blank fell short of my expectations. No answer sufficed. Every time – every time – my response was, “Well, you’re God. Surely you could have done it another way.”
Some pain is too deep, some things too extraordinary to understand.
20 children shot dead and hundreds more traumatized, scarred for life. Surely there was another way!
When Job lost everything he had – family, health, business, friends, position in society – he cried out to the Lord for an answer. The Lord answered out of the storm. But probably not in the way Job expected:
“Brace yourself like a man; I [God] will question you [Job], and you shall answer me.
“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone— while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?”
Can you just imagine His booming voice, like the rushing wind or crackling thunder? Continuing like that for several more chapters, (Job 38-41) God’s answer hardly seems like an answer at all. It rather seems like…a rebuke.
But what answer would have satisfied Job? Would he have actually found comfort in knowing that God allowed Satan to sift him like wheat?
God is so good. He knew what Job needed better than Job himself.
Instead of speaking to Job’s intellect, God reveals Himself to Job’s heart. And Job responds:
“Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know….
My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”
God didn’t give Job an answer. God WAS the answer.
Finally, Job surrenders. He stops his frantic search. He lays down his quiver of accusations. Throws himself on the ground and vomits up the bile of his bitter, grieving heart. He has seen the Lord and at last, he rests. At last, he finds comfort.
Grief, sorrow, pain. Harbor these waters of affliction and your wells will turn bitter and run dry. But let them flow, let your tears rain down, seek comfort in the arms of your Father, and there you will find the waters of life. (Oddly enough my blog last month was about grieving. You can read it here if you would like to explore this topic further.)
To my grieving fellow Connecticutians and Americans, what arrows are in your quiver? Strung on your bow? Acts of retribution? Making someone pay? Judgment? Or acts of morality? Giving financially to victims? Social activism? Or acts of self-protection? Fear? Isolation? Not all of these things are bad, but do them – even the “good” ones – without receiving comfort and you will be like Job, like I once was, perhaps even like the perpetrators you despise – weary, bitter, empty and isolated.
Can you admit, like the minister did, that you are intellectually vacant? Can you fall at the feet of the One and Only Answer you will ever need? Can you let Him be enough? Because He Is. He Was. He Will Always Be, the only Answer that satisfies. The One in whom all questions fade away.
I was with my youngest daughter, Christina, and a friend. We stood in a vast, barren landscape of dry, scraggly hills covered with natural debris. I didn’t look at the sky but it must have been sunless, because everything was gray, ashen.
I am bent over a pile of withered, cracked branches – branches much longer than I am tall and about the thickness of a baseball bat. The branches are so dry, they’ve begun to turn white. I kneel down, curious. Lifting up a few branches to see what lies beneath, I notice they’re stuck in some sort of gray mire. An old riverbed! The mire reeks of decay.
I lift my head. To my left are three dead owls.
Nothing lives here.
I stand and look around. I see now – the hills and valleys are actually the stony banks and dry beds of countless rivers and creeks. Each one filled with desiccated branches. Everywhere my eyes scan: parched, lifeless land.
A moment later, I am at an old farmhouse. Not mine. My grandmother’s? My mother’s? I think we’re on vacation. My entire family is there. Even my grandparents, who’ve long since passed.
My grandma’s in the kitchen. There’s a child sleeping on an over sized chair. Is it Christina? Or am I seeing myself?
I step out the screen door and the sky looms heavy, oppressive, dark. Drizzle dots my skin. I sigh and think, “Ugh, rain. Another family vacation day ruined.” Then I remember the dry riverbed. I put my hand out to catch the drizzle. “No. Not enough to make a difference.”
Next, I am standing outdoors. Christina and I are by the street, facing the white farmhouse. She seems younger in my dream. My friend stands in the yard, facing us. Behind her there’s a little vegetable garden. And I have a sense that my grandma is watching us through the embroidered café curtains of the kitchen window.
It starts to rain. And pour. And pour. For a moment I am disappointed. Rain on vacation.
I look at the ground beneath my feet. Mud. So much water the ground can’t hold. My skin, my hair – soaked. What a mess! What a…
I remember: The dry riverbeds. The barren wasteland. This rain – it’s falling there too!
I turn my palms heavenward and lift my face to the rain. Rain will quench the parched land and fill thirsty riverbeds. Perhaps the rain did not come when I wanted, as I expected, but it came and it is good.
What do you do with a dream like that? What do you make of it? I would love to hear your thoughts. It has been a couple of weeks and God is still speaking to me about it.
I should tell you that this dream came on the night of Tuesday, November 6 – Election Night 2012. Hmmmm….
I should also tell you that our church is in the midst of a spiritual emphasis we call “Pray for Reign.” Together, we are praying for God to reign in our lives, individually and corporately, and that His spirit would rain down on us and on our land.
Back when Pray for Reign began, I fell in love with this song Waiting for the Rain by Misty Edwards:
“..I’m waiting in the desert, just waiting for the rain…”
This weekend, I had the privilege of being with a friend while she grieved. As I watched her cry, God gave me a sort of vision: I glimpsed dry riverbeds, like the ones in my dream, deep in her soul. And they were being watered by her tears. The beauty of it took my breath away. The eyes of my heart began to see…to understand grief differently:
Loss of any kind leaves an empty space in our hearts. If we hold on to that loss or run away from it, that hole becomes an dry, decaying ditch. What water is left, sours from the rotting branches of bitterness – those worthless things we use to fill our hollow spaces. Then it happens again…and again, so that one day, we look around at the expanse of our souls, and see acres upon acres devoured by loss. An emaciated wasteland.
Nothing lives here.
“…oh but I won’t leave this desert, until I see the rain…”
More often than not, God won’t bring back what was lost – people die, dreams are dashed, life changes, friends move away, bodies grow weak. All this life…it’s just a letting go.
I have wrestled with this. I have burned with rage. I have desperately asked. I have silently cried. Then came peace – or at least the hope of peace: Nichole, every empty cavern, every hollow grave, is a place for Me to enter. Everything I take away, creates more room for Me.
This life is loss. I can rail against reality – rail against Him – or I can accept what’s true and give Him space to rain…to reign.
“… I can see the clouds gatherin’ now…are you ready…are you ready for the rain?”
Are you ready for the rain? When God sends it, will you let it fall?
Because the rain that fills our dry riverbeds will not fall from the sky. The rain that soaks our shriveled souls, will fall from our eyes. Our very eyes.
Grief is a gift from God. A well to the deep healing waters of heaven. Let Him rain.
Lament your loss. Mourn what’s missing. Cry out in your pain.
I had a dream. God reigned.
See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. Isaiah 43:19
I haven’t posted anything in quite some time, but I have been writing! Today I want to share an excerpt from that writing. It is about my grandmother, the most influential woman in my life after my mother. She passed away 3 years ago this August and I miss her as much as I did the first day she went away. This post is not only about her, but about me and just a few of the life lessons she taught me. I hope they speak to you and bless you as well.
Grandma. 5’ 10” with short, dark-blond hair (before it went white) which she set in curlers weekly for that June Cleaver kind of look. Not that my Grandma was much like June Cleaver. Gosh, I’d probably catch heck if she heard me comparing her to June Cleaver! Kim Novak…or Angela Landsbury…maybe she would like those comparisons better. After all, Grandma traded in skirts and dresses for elastic waisted, pocketless denim or polyester slacks long before I came along. And whenever she was at home, the only thing she wore on her feet were those toeless, backless, slide-on, terrycloth slippers. I guess she figured if clothes weren’t comfortable then they weren’t worth wearing.
I, along with my brother and mother, had the privilege of spending more than half my childhood living with my grandparents. While she didn’t work outside the home – and she cooked, cleaned, washed and ironed on a schedule you could set a watch to – my Grandma, Arlene was her name, found no bliss in her domestic duties. Domesticity was her job. Period. She lived for the moments in between. Those filled with piano playing, crossword puzzles, game shows, family visits, apple pie with cheddar cheese, diet coke, Pall Mall non-filters, Murder She Wrote and Fred Astaire.
One afternoon, when I was about 10, I came home from school with an assignment. I plopped myself down on the floor in front of the chair where she sat.
“Grandma, I have to ask you a question for homework. If there was one thing you could have done differently in life, what would it be?”
“Oh, let me see,” she said, resting her elbows on her knees and rubbing her wrinkled hands together. She turned her blue-green eyes to the floor to think, then looked back up at me and said, “Well, I probably wouldn’t have had so many kids.”
I, the firstborn of her fourth and very last child, stared back, wide-eyed, slack-jawed.
“I think I would have stopped after the first one. Raising all those kids…ah.” She waved her hand as if brushing away all the chores of childrearing. “Then maybe I would have gotten a job or something.”
She said it so casually, so matter-of-factly. My mind reeled. My grandma – the most dependable, reliable, non-threatening person I knew, one whose love I never doubted and whose care I never lacked – just wiped my name from her book of life! I imagined the consequences: my mother, my aunt Joanne, my uncle Gibby, my cousins and me…all gone. Uncle Thomas and his kids the only survivors. How easily she dismissed our familial line!
I took a breath and checked myself, searching for any internal hurt or anger. There was none. In fact, if I hadn’t been so shocked, I might have even laughed. Geez Gram, I thought, you can think those things if you want, but maybe you shouldn’t say them out loud…to your grandchildren!
But I found that I couldn’t hold it against her. Rather, my appreciation for her grew. She had hopes and dreams beyond motherhood and housewifery; she wanted more than us. I wondered what held her back. Was it falling in love with grandpa that caused her to settle down and have kids? Was it her limited education? Or just a lack of options for farm girls in the 1940’s? Whatever the case, she wanted something different and yet her dutiful, personal sacrifice betrayed none of those regrets.
My grandmother was the solid ground beneath my shifting sands of life. Borrowing from singer Sarah Evans, “she was steady as the sun.” Faithful. Predictable. Available. Consistent. She loved us all and would stand by us until the end. Of that I had no doubt. That day, I saw in her, perhaps for the first time, the incomparable value of a life sacrificed for others.
She was no saint. I’m pretty sure a woman who at times shared vocabulary with sailors can’t be canonized. And her insistence that “that Mary, she wasn’t no virgin” probably wouldn’t have won her any votes either. But she was ours and nothing, not even her own dreams, would change that.
At that moment, I made a point to tuck this little conversation away, knowing that someday, when I was old enough, its retelling would make us all roar with laughter.
I learned a few more things that day. I learned that while our choices matter, life is bigger than our choices. And that our regrets don’t have to define us. But perhaps, most importantly for me, an unplanned child, I learned that our plans might not always be the best plans.
How precarious was my entrance into this world! What if my parents never met? Never dated? What if they’d chosen to abort me? It was 1973 after all.
Or what if my grandma had stopped at just one child and went off to get a job instead?
Life is not only bigger than our choices; it’s bigger than me, bigger than all of us. That day, I stopped asking “What if?” and began to wonder “Why?”
Why was I here? Why was my mother here? My grandmother? Anyone?
Promise me you’ll never leave. Promise you won’t tell. Promise to help me, no matter what. Promise you’ll never hurt me. Promise you won’t turn your back on me. Promise you’ll never give up on me. Promised me you’ll never forget.
Promises. We ask for and give them so easily. What does a promise mean to me? To you? Why are promises important?
For the last month I have been reading about promises kept, even at the most difficult times. About soldiers who risked their lives to save a woman who had earlier shielded them from the sword of her own countrymen. Not only did the soldiers save the woman, but they rescued her whole family as well. In the midst of a raging battle, the soldiers fought their way down city streets, back to her home, bringing her and her family to safety. They did this not because they loved her, not because they were a search and rescue team, not because they feared her. The soldiers rescued her because she asked them to and, in gratitude of her mercy toward them, they promised her they would. It was as simple as that.
I also read about a nation tricked into making a treaty with a neighboring village. The villagers claimed, rather convincingly, to be something they were not. The nation would never have entered into the treaty had they known the truth. Even still, when the national leaders discovered the deception, they honored the treaty. One day, a coalition of five enemy states attacked the village. Without hesitation, they called on the very nation they had deceived and pleaded for military support. As a man of his word, the national leader agreed. He then traveled with his entire army throughout the night until arriving at the village. The next morning, and for what seemed like days, they waged war on the invaders and successfully defended the villagers in perhaps their most difficult battle ever. Why? Because in allying themselves with the villagers, they had made a promise, of not only peace, but of unity.
Promises. What kind of promises have you made? Have you ever been tricked into making a promise? Or maybe you just feel like you didn’t get what you bargained for?
I read about another promise. The promise of a father. He was the father of the two soldiers and of the deceived national leader. The father had raised his children to be strong, faithful, compassionate, wise, loving, patient and honest – not because he told them to, but because he too was all those things. Their father had never made a promise he didn’t keep and he never would. In honor of their father, these sons did the same. A promise made was a promise kept.
For the last month or so, I have spent most (not all, but most) of my writing time deep in preparations for our summer play and camp. I have so much I want to write about that I’ve begun to envision the topics piling up before me like a stack of sweet pancakes just waiting to be devoured. But there is no time for self-indulgence, there is a script to be written! So, in an effort to be faithful to my blog and my commitments at the same time, I have combined the two.
By now, some of you recognize the soldiers, the woman, the leader, the villagers and the Father as characters from the book of Joshua, and our focus for this summer’s program. These last few days, as I think of the story of Joshua, I see a sweeping account of a Father’s faithfulness to his children and his determination to keep his promises, no matter what the cost. As a testimony to their Father, the children live with the same passionate, sacrificial integrity.
Do I take my promises and commitments seriously? Will I honor my commitments even when they fail to meet my expectations? Will I keep my promises, no matter the cost? Am I aware of how my faithfulness reflects on the Father who risked everything for me? The Father who promised He’ll never leave. Promised He won’t tell. Promised to help me, no matter what. Promised He’ll never hurt me. Promised He won’t turn His back on me. Promised to never give up on me. Promised me He’ll never forget. That’s a Father worth keeping promises for – am I willing? Are you?
Do you remember that Christmas present you always wanted but never got? I found mine while reverently flipping through the Sears Wish Book, eyes wide, excitement bubbling through my veins. I circled the picture over and over, practically cutting a hole through the paper with the tip of my pen. Then, when I showed my parents, they promptly informed me that a Barbie Dream House was not in the budget nor would it fit in our two bedroom apartment. Even after a letter to Santa and some earnest prayers, come Christmas day, among all the presents under the tree, there was no Barbie Dream House. So goes life. Sometimes, we ask for one thing and get another.
Most of the time, such disappointments are small and quickly forgotten. But at other times, they hurt. Imagine the child who wants a set of paints or a guitar but the parents keep buying soccer balls and shin guards. Might such a child wonder, “Do my parents even know me? Do they care at all?” A good and genuine gift – material or not – is one that says, “I know you and I love you. I know you and I love you.”
I think that’s why we’re often confused when we ask the Lord for one thing and He gives us something else. Doesn’t He know us through and through? Doesn’t He love us more than anyone ever could? Scripture tells us that God gives good gifts to his children – we just have to ask. Then why do we ask for work and find none? We ask for friends and are still alone? We ask for healing and death comes anyway? We ask for answers and are left with more questions? What then?
Lately, I have really wrestled with this. It’s not that I think He can’t hear me. I know He can. And it’s not even that He’s silent. In fact, He’s talking to me all the time. But sometimes I feel like we’re having two different conversations. I ask for an apple and He answers with an orange. I ask in English and He answers in…well…God language.
One particularly frustrating night, I picked up the book Beyond Opinion. After flipping to the chapter “The Role of Doubt and Persecution in Spiritual Transformation” by Stuart McAlister, I skeptically began reading. What? Doubt? Me? Never! To my surprise, I found some nuggets of truth, a new perspective, and it’s radically altering how I view the Lord and my relationship with Him.
Do you remember what happens between Moses and the Lord in Exodus 33? I consider it one of most beautiful moments in Biblical history. At first, the Lord, angry with the Israelites for their rebellion, tells Moses to take the people and go on without Him. Like a forsaken lover, the devastated Moses shamelessly protests; the Lord immediately and lovingly responds. With an almost palpable tenderness, they lay bare their hearts, declaring their love and devotion to one another. In that moment, raw with vulnerability and heavy with expectation, Moses realizes that nothing else will do but to know and be completely known. Boldly, confident of his lover’s love, Moses beckons to the Lord, “Now show me your glory.” Time almost seems to stand still.
With passion for His beloved, the Lord agrees…but there’s a twist. The Lord only allows Moses to see His back, lest Moses die. I don’t know about you, but I might have been disappointed, hurt or even angry. After such an intimate exchange, how could God not know what Moses really wanted? The usual, standard answer would be that the Lord was protecting Moses – and that’s true. The Lord did protect Moses and He did it with moving, powerful, symbolic, almost prophetic imagery of the coming Christ. (I could write a thousand paragraphs about that, but not today!) There is no doubt that the Lord was protecting Moses, but perhaps there’s even more to it than that.
What if what Stuart McAlister, Alister McGrath and Martin Luther believe is also true? That God was indeed showing Moses his glory because God’s glory is present even in “the back parts of God”. Perhaps Moses, and we alike, must be “forced to turn our eyes from contemplation of where we would like to see God revealed, and to turn them instead upon a place of which is not our own choosing, but which is given to us. We like to find God in the beauty of nature, in the brilliance of an inspired human work of art or in the depths of our own being – and instead, we must recognize that the sole authorized symbol of the Christian faith is a scene of dereliction and carnage.” (McGrath)
We want to see God’s glory….just so long as that glory is powerful, beautiful, awe inspiring…and safe. Yet the core of our faith rests on Jesus, who was humiliated, violently tortured, brutally murdered and abandoned by his Father; the same Father in whom we’re asked to put our trust. Are you willing to look at that God? Do you want to see all of Him?
God isn’t neat, tidy, predictable or tame. Just think of Jesus for a minute. He showed up in some unexpected ways, didn’t He? After entering the womb of a poor, unwed, teenage virgin, He was born amid scandal and worshiped by mystics and the dregs of society. He acted in some unexpected ways, too. The Israelites asked for a savior who would conquer their political enemies, bring national freedom, and raise Israel up to rule over all the earth, eternally. But the King of Kings preferred to socialize with outcasts and eventually submitted to humiliation, defeat and death on a cross. Through means no earthly soul could predict, the Lord attained complete victory, spiritual freedom and eternal life for all people who would receive it.
So, when you contemplate the miraculous work of the cross, do you, like me, see the Lord’s strength and glory prevailing in spite of Christ’s suffering, humiliation and defeat? I once envisioned Christ as somehow outside of it all. But He wasn’t…if anything, He was more present, more alive, more aware of His experiences than we who live with veiled hearts have ever been. Christ wasn’t victorious despite defeat. He was victorious in and through defeat. He wasn’t strong despite the appearance of weakness. No! He was strong in and through His weakness. And He wasn’t glorified despite his humiliation. Rather, He revealed His glory in and through humiliation. In the cross, and even in the manger, we find that “God reveals himself through a contrary form. It is the back of God, which is revealed – but it is God, and not another.” (McAlister)
Recently, while meditating on God’s glory as revealed through the degradation of the cross, I imagined Jesus there – beaten, broken, humiliated and hanging on a tree. He looked like any other brutally tortured, dying man – but He wasn’t any other man. He was God. All the power of the universe, wrapped up in the flesh of one man, and nailed to a cross. The Lord, the Mighty One, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, a picture of human weakness. Then this word came to mind: vulnerable.
In Jesus, the Lord Himself became vulnerable – vulnerable to all that mankind could throw at Him. And it was in and through that very vulnerability that He rescued a cursed creation. Sometimes the Lord reveals his power with a mighty arm, but at other times He places us, as He did Moses, on a Rock, hides us in the palm of His hand and then shows us a side of Himself we’ve never seen before. He does this because He, the Great I AM, longs for us to know Him…all of Him…even the back parts.
Suddenly, I am overcome, breathless at the thought that through some divine mystery, I might actually encounter the Lord inand through my weakness and suffering. That in those cold, dark places, if I watch with the eyes of my heart, the Lord will reveal Himself to me. That He and I, for a moment, might share even a thousandth of the intimacy experienced between the Lord and Moses.
Can I be that vulnerable? What do I need to do Lord? And I hear: “Give. Give. Give. Give, yourself to Me.” The Lord knows us and loves us. He gives us, always, the perfect gift: Himself. We may not always get what we expect, or even what we asked for, but we always get Him. And for once, I see the possibility, I long to respond and give Him the only gift I ever can: Me. All of me. Warm, expectant and trembling ever so slightly, I find myself whispering, “Lord, show me your glory.”
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. II Corinthians 12:9-10
But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. I Corinthians 1:27