Grace and Peace to you.
I am thinking this morning of a friend who has just been diagnosed with breast cancer, and another whose daughter was sexually abused by a family friend. I’m thinking of a friend who is in a faith crisis, not in her relationship with God, but with the church, which wouldn’t be so painful if she weren’t a pastor. I’m sure that you, too, know people who are suffering or struggling, and that at times you yourself feel like life is against you, or at least has let you down.
It just doesn’t help to say, “It will be all right.” Sometimes it isn’t. And it doesn’t help to say, “God will never give you what you can’t handle.” That’s ridiculous. For one thing, God doesn’t “give” you trouble; life does. Your neighbor does. A germ does. A friend who abuses your daughter is not acting according to God’s will. God doesn’t micromanage all our disasters. And furthermore, sometimes we can’t handle it. People crack up, break down, go crazy and commit crimes or suicide all the time. Some disasters wreck things that never get fixed. So where is God in all this, huh?
Well, it’s not as if I know. I haven’t seen heaven, or watched over God’s shoulder, or even suffered enough to have gained wisdom that’s very deep. But, from my own little struggles with life and pain and failure and disappointment, and from my wrestling with scripture, here’s what I do know: that God is the One who weeps with us. That God has “com-passion:” feeling-with. That God does not inflict suffering, but bears it. That God does what Paul tells us to do, to “weep with those who weep.” That the creator of the universe, infinite and unknowable, is somehow tenderly attentive to each of us, present within us, dwelling in our pain and our joy, in ways that we can’t see and seldom even suspect. But there. Even God’s absence is somehow a part of God’s indwelling Presence.
I guess that’s what we mean by “Christ”: the second person of the Holy Trinity, the nature of God that is not infinite and far-off, and not necessarily all-powerful, but is lovingly present, that is not necessarily always working miracles, but is simply with us, even in our suffering. Just there, holding us, not “making it better,” but just being there. The ancient hymn (quoted in Philippians 2.5-11) says that “Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.” He came and sat with us in our pain.
If you ask, “What good goes that do?” I have to say I don’t know. I just know it’s true. And if you say, “Well, God must be weeping a lot,” I say, Yes. And yet somehow God is still joyful. Imagine that.
Whether you are joyful or fearful today, struggling or at ease, needing to give or receive, there is within you the compassion that comes from God. Trust that you are accompanied by the gentle man with blessing in his heart and holes in his hands, hands that know hurt, and that still reach out. Imagine the Spirit of Life within you, gently weeping, dwelling in you with infinite blessing and somehow, even here, infinite joy.
Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes