“The dispute concerns an unbearable mismatch between lived reality and traditional explanations that proceed by their own logic without reference to lived reality.” Walter Brueggeman
I have a friend whose father is dying. That sounds harsh and I wish there was a gentler way to put it but that would reinforce the purpose of this meditation. Though, admittedly, it may be less meditation and more ranting and raving.
Don’t you wish Christians would occasionally live in the real world? The world of pain and suffering. Of struggle and discontent. That they would put away their pious platitudes and see that original sin is alive and well in the twenty-first century and that though we can seize our God-shaped destiny we are still guilty of only living a shadow life of what God has for us. There is still sickness and death. Still hurt and loss, and to be honest I don’t like it.
My friends laugh at me because I don’t like movies with sucky endings. You know the type. The one I use most often as an example is Message in a Bottle. The “hero,” some lovelorn man who lost his wife, throws messages in bottles out into the ocean. A woman finds them, follows them and they enter into a relationship. He (of course he because in romantic movies it is the man who always screws it up) pushes her away only to later realize he loves her. So he gets in this blasted sailboat he has been working on the whole move and sails off to find her…getting ready for a happily ever after ending? Yeah, so was I, then he hits a storm, tries to help somebody and dies. What? That ending sucks! Don’t we have enough of suckily ever after?
This is where the “unbearable mismatch” exists. Traditional explanations offer things like, “it must be his time” or “God must need him in heaven.” What a bunch of holier than thou bull-oney. Lived reality is that our world is separated from God and as such it is plagued with death and pain.
The lived reality is that my friend appreciates that, even though I’m a spiritual person, I don’t offer platitudes. Actually, I make her face some hard realities so that she will be better able to deal with things as they come. Certainly, I offer a shoulder to cry on, but I also offer faith balanced reality. I believe that God heals, but I also believe that people die. In the Old Testament, those three guys are about to get toasted in the furnace and they say the coolest thing to the king who orders their execution. To Marty-phrase it they say, “Our God can save us, but even if God chooses not to we won’t worship you.” That is powerful faith balanced reality. That is how I want to live.
We mess up when we think Jesus came to give us an easy, happily ever after life. People who believe that really didn’t actually read the Bible. Jesus said his yoke was easy, he didn’t say life would be easy. Jesus was crucified. Paul, who wrote the majority of the New Testament and planted churches all over the place, was shipwrecked, beaten, stoned, run out of town and eventually martyred. That does not sound like a positive career path. Are we saying he wasn’t Godly enough? Faith balance reality allows us to understand that our God is able to do exceedingly, abundantly amazing things but that that we live in a world separated from God where sin, pain and death are real. That sometimes God does not deliver us from pain but travels through the pain with us. God bears those burdens, shares the load and carries us through.
One last thought on pain. I used to think it would be cool not to feel pain. Actually I intellectualized my emotional life and was attempting to control all my feelings, but especially pain. What I’ve learned is that to understand real happiness, to experience bliss the pain is a small price to pay. Now, I don’t go looking for pain, but the other side of the coin is an amazing thing. I think that maybe that is what Jesus meant when He said he came to give live and to give it abundantly…real life. Life lived to its fullest.
I still don’t like pain. I still hate movies with sucky endings, but I know God can take the crap the world throws at us and redeem it. How do I know, because God redeemed me. That is yet another reason I’m glad I am:
Lost in Grace,
Gracious God, I grow tired of pain but I know you are with me in the midst of the struggle. Help me to be the kind of friend that tells the truth and offers a shoulder of hope and support. Help me carry the pain of others when their burdens are too much to bear and help me to release my own when I can carry them no longer. God, allow me to embrace the bliss of life and enjoy its blessings and not be bound by its pain. In the name of our pain-bearer, Jesus, I pray. Amen