I'm travelling this week, so I'm reprinting a post from 2008. It fits OK in the series on the Goodness of God, which I will return to next week.
I'm not much of a complainer in my personal life – mostly because I have kids who are way better than I could have possibly raised them, I have a wife who is infinitely a better person and a better spouse than I am, I make a decent living, somehow blogging has panned out for me as a way to write thing which people will then actually read, and most importantly, I have a savior in Jesus Christ.
Now, many segments of the blogosphere will read a post which begins like that and simply write it off as hash – because, frankly, they are actually complainers. Life is very hard for them, Jesus doesn’t turn out to give them what they think they want, and so on. And people see that as transparency, somehow – that if one can vent one's disappointment or talk about how hard they have it today, that's real emotional honesty, and we should raise a glass to the thick hide it takes to tell people that COMPONENT X of my life makes me sad.
And I bring this up because the last 10 days for me has been frankly emotionally and spiritually draining. I'm down. I'm really down. How can you laugh when you know I'm down? How can you laugh? When you know I'm down?
So should I blog about the valley of the shadow of death? I mean – as I have tried to find a way to summarize it, the last week has looked a lot like the first chapter of Job, sans the marauding Sabeans and the donkeys. And, thankfully, the boils.
Do you really want to read about that? Would it be edifying to know that my week was as bad or worse than yours was?
Let me suggest something here, and then try to work it out: these are important things, and they are the things we think about every day. But is thinking about them – and listening to the litany of my immediate state of woe – edifying or uplifting? Or is there something else we should be comparing all that stuff to so that when that stuff happens, we don’t find ourselves shipwrecked?
Job says this about that:
I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ... Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ... I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.That's Job – who probably went through worse that I did this week, and who, all things told, probably went through worse than you did. In his view, when he turned to God, and God answered him, it is himself he despises for thinking that God owes him an answer.
Now, why is that? Is it because it's none of Job's business and God will simply do whatever it is He does and none of your loose lip can change that? I think that's a completely hollow view of what Job realizes here, and that for two reasons.
The first reason is that God demands that Job's friends repent through Job for their sins. That is, while Job says that he did something wrong by asking God, "why?", his friend are actually in need of a sacrifice and are condemned by God for telling Job, "this is all your own fault, dude." That is, the explanation that Job is a sinner in the hands of an angry God doesn’t cut it because that's the explanation Job's friends give, and God labels that chatter "folly" which kindles up his "anger".
But the second reason is in Job's response here: the things at stake are too wonderful for Job to understand – even the Message admits that Job was sort of overwhelmed by the wonder which is in beholding God first-hand and seeing one's plight in the face of the living God.
Now, to tie this back to my original thought – which was my lousy week – of all the things in the list in my first paragraph, only one really qualifies as a "wonder". And while some of you may be influenced to think it is my Wife, and you'd be right from a certain perspective, the only real wonder on that list is that I have a savior in Jesus Christ.
"Yah yah yah," interrupts the internet detractor who struggles with depression, or the evangelican who stopped by because he was between Max Lucado books. "You Calvinists. The only thing that matters is Jesus Christ. Everything is so Jesus-centered that it's not any actual Earthly good, and you white-wash suffering and pain to the place where the problem of evil is itself invalidated because you say, in effect, there is no evil. It's all good because God makes it all good. And if that's what you're getting at, you make me sick because my wife is dying from cancer, she cannot be cured, and you can't convince me that her pain and my suffering are not evil."
Yeah, no. I'm not saying that. I'm saying that Job, who is still scraping his boils with a piece of pottery, and who has nothing left in this world, has asked God for an answer as to the question, "why me, Lord? Why me when I have never done anything to you?" And his answer is that suffering is real and it also shows us something about God we couldn’t otherwise know.
Job says, "I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you." It seems to me that Job says that the answer to his question is not a fancy theology of the problem of evil, but that it is finding God there in the midst of the problem.
See: my problems this week are my problems. I own them, I wear them, I bear them. This is my life. It is real. I know it because I feel it. But there is a wonder which I could not see if I did not see this pain: it is the wonder that Christ is my savior. And he's not just a savior who hands out lollypops and lemonade and cake: He's a savior who has willingly suffered so that He would save.
You know: Christ had to pay taxes (Mat 17 – the temple tax). Christ had arguments with people – in fact, very important people came looking for Christ to have arguments with him specifically for the purpose of making him look bad (Mark 12 – about divorce and the resurrection). Christ's friends betrayed Him (John 18 – Peter denies him). Christ's mother thought he was crazy, and wanted him to stop preaching (Mark 3 – not just his mother but his whole family). Christ had people using him for a free meal under the cover of seeking a religious sign (John 6 – feeds 5000). Christ's friend died from being sick (John 11 – death of Lazarus). Christ Himself was unjustly accused and convicted of violating the law, and was given the death penalty (Mat 26:57- the trial of Christ).
Let me say it plainly that Jesus had it rough – and this is a wonder.
Christ suffered in this world in every way that we suffer today, and He knows what we are going through – not as an observer, but as the book of Hebrews says, as a High Priest [who] understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same dark stuff we do.
Now, if you see that with your eye, and not merely hear it with your ear, how do you feel about your complaints? Are they magnified, or does Christ – who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be horded or clung to, but made himself nothing (an insignificant speck), taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men, and being in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross -- trade you beauty for your ashes, and pour out an oil of gladness for your mourning?
Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scripture. So when an airplane crashes into your new car, or you have to go and mourn at a funeral without your spouse because of a birthday party, or your money suddenly seems really tight, or you have to fire someone because of someone else's incompetence, or you yourself are fired because of someone else's incompetence, you may be suffering. I would say that if these things happen to you, you will suffer. But Christ has suffered more and you get that benefit. That is the answer God gives you, which I think you couldn't see from the chaise lounge whilst sipping the drink served in a coconut with the happy paper umbrella. You can only see it from this place, where we suffer.
And that makes looking at the rest of this stuff a little easier, I think. I hope you think so, too.