Sunday, February 2, 2014

When I in Awesome Wonder....

This week, sitting on the back pew of a packed black-clad church, mid-day on a Friday as the organ played the first measures of How Great thou Art, a friend turned to me and said something like, "I cannot see what good comes of this. I have tried. I can't imagine what good God can make of this."

Right. A fifty-one year old father of young twins has died suddenly, unexpectedly, tragically. A wife is abruptly a widow. Two sweet boys are left to interpret the world without their father. Normalcy, stability, joy are at least temporarily interrupted and they are unarguably forever changed.

For some, the first reaction is to seek answers, to make it all part of some cosmic plan, to rush to comfort and concrete understanding.

We forget...or perhaps have never encountered the reality that God is so much bigger than we can possibly fathom. We don't grasp our free will and ultimately the free nature of all created "order" to be and do and say, and therefore sometimes we can't imagine a God that is as heartbroken as we are at sudden tragedy and trauma. We seek to blame, to find meaning, to turn events into some formula that eventually has an equal sign and a solution,

God's math is so much more complicated than that.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Too often we buy into an easier understanding of God. We hear it's about relationship and assume that means that right relationship means right outcome. Somehow that formula assumes that we know something about the definition of "right." We preach overly simplistic math from the pulpit - God answers prayer IF you confess your sins, God shows up with opportunity IF you are obedient. God will heal you IF only you believe enough.

Then you turn to Ecclesiastes. Or Pete Seeger (God rest his soul).

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; 
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

Jesus knew this God well. Jesus was of this same God, a God who was present, turning again and again back to those who sought simpler math with an unexpected, unexplainable love and grace.

Jesus walked among the living who knew all too well that life was hard. He shared knowledge and relationship with a God who sought out the least and the lost, whose grace extended those who toiled for a full day and for those who toiled but a few hours, who was less concerned with form and ritual than with relationship and faith. Jesus provided no easy answers. He talked about faith and sacrifice and loving your enemy and forgiving one another. Jesus went to an unexplainable, horrible, unjust death. And we still sin, and turn away, and seek an easy "whole number" solution for an equation.

My own encounter with the living God involves finding arms to fall into when tragedy strikes, to find bread and company for the journey that is seemingly impossible to find breath when I simply cannot breathe under the weight of loss or sin or frustration or need. 

Good things happen and bad things happen and God goes on and on. That is the nature of the living God I know. That is the model for Christ's body, the church. That is the model for family and for marriage. It isn't always good or right or just. And we are called to hang in there, to love harder, deeper, with more forgiveness and grace.

I am not good at that faithfulness. I have failed to stay in relationships in the hard, unpleasant, dissatisfying times. The relationships seem off-balance, unsatisfactory, displeasing. God keeps showing up to me though. And I think I am learning that it is about something so much bigger than me, so much bigger than I can fully comprehend. But I am a part of it...a necessary set of hands and feet with a heart, who, in moments of clarity proclaims, "How great thou art..."

He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

For any loss or hardship, I am reminded that God didn't "do" this for any reason. God doesn't expect us to find the silver lining of this dark cloud. God is with us as we weep, as we rant and lament. God receives our anger and our accusation, and our fear, and our self-centeredness, and our simplistic question, "Why?" And God asks us to do the same with one another and the whole creation.