Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Are You There, God?

A young widow grieves the loss of her husband—too soon—a life preempted—the vigor of youth spilled by dispassionate disease.  Now she must cling to a memory, clutch a pillow still warm from her husband’s presence, and cover her ears to the deafening silence.  She cries out in her despair: “Why didn’t you spare him, God?”

A man struggles with dementia, terrorized by the knowledge he knows he’s forgetting.  You can see the panic in his eyes as he desperately tries to hold on to his mind—the very image of his self melancholically reaching his hand out of the inky water to be saved from the oblivion pulling him under.  He catches his self, but his grip tires, and the hand, wet with icy water, too easily slips through his grasp.  Painfully aware  that on the next attempt he may watch his self recede into the black abyss beyond his reach—forgotten—he prays what might be the last thought he shall forget: “Why didn’t you rescue me, God?”

A prominent scientist sits in the bleachers at an ice arena.  With brief case open and papers laid across his lap, he busily fingers his iPad™, the light of its screen highlighting the lines of ambition in his face.  He looks up when his son takes the ice, smiles, and plunges back to finishing the presentation he would soon give before a crowd of his ardent admirers.  When he finally resurfaces, he finds the teams had left the ice and the spectators gone except for a few stragglers musing over the game.  He searches the scoreboard for the outcome, but it is blank.  Years later, his son pours gall in to the empty space within his heart, only to discover it can’t be filled but grows larger to accommodate more bitterness.  The betrayed young man gazes to heaven: “Don’t you see, God? Don’t you care?  Are you even there?”

All of us can relate to the despair felt by the above souls; perhaps you are with them at this very moment.  And if we are honest we have all asked the same question they asked, “Are you there, God?” It’s a valid question; it’s an ancient question.  When Jesus arrived too late to save his friend Lazarus, both Martha and Mary would in turn effectively ask this question of Jesus.  If they had known what we know from reading the account--that Jesus had purposely tarried--I suspect the tone of their voices would had been outright anger instead of the frustration and bewilderment that comes through the story.  Would we blame them?  I’m certain Jesus wouldn’t have blamed them.  No, He honored their transparency, and would have all of us approach Him with the same unguarded candidness.  Instead of rebuking Martha and Mary, Jesus answered their question, and in so doing answers everyone’s question.

First, the reason He tarried, and the reason He so often remains silent during our times of suffering, is to demonstrate that God is working out His purpose to restore the universe to the kingdom He originally intended.  This kingdom is His glory because it is both the expression and product of His love.  He has us wait and do without so we might shift our attention from ourselves and our plight to Him and His certain victory, which even now is already won, and in the future will be complete.  God is restoring His kingdom and this restoration must begin with us.  As with all restorations there must be some destruction before there can be construction.  He must breakdown everything hindering us from focusing on Jesus.  If we confess Jesus as King then we dwell in His kingdom and we are therefore bearing fruit for His kingdom, which is bringing justice by administering mercy.  Through this process we will see ourselves being restored to God, and we suffer, because frankly the world—the world the apostle John tells us is fading away along with its desire-- juxtaposed with God’s kingdom is opposed to Him, and the very nature God works to free us also opposes Him.  Putting it simply, we are our own worst enemies.

Second, by raising Lazarus from the dead (see John 11:1-43 for the full account of Jesus and Lazarus), God shows us the extent of the victory only He can accomplish.  When we enter His kingdom by believing Him—confessing Him as King, trusting in the provisions, forgiveness, and power of His love, and loving Him by obeying Him—we live.  Even though we presently still feel the flames of death in all its various guises all around us because the present world persists for a time, we are alive.  And in His kingdom we shall always live, even though we die, because God tells us His name is, I AM, and He has validated His faithfulness to His promise by raising Jesus to life and making Him King over all.

Third, God tells us He understands our fears, our pain, our anguish, our despair, and our loss, depths of death itself.  We know he does because when Jesus encountered the grief-stricken mourners and Martha and Mary, Jesus wept.  He cried for all humanity because our suffering shouldn’t be.  God took on flesh so we might be certain of His empathy.  But much more than that, God took on flesh to do something about our suffering.
Therefore, God’s answer to our question can be concisely summed up, Yes, I'm here,so trust Me and live.  Jesus tells us, “In the world you shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.”  The moment God entered our history through His son, Jesus the Christ, His kingdom, which is the restoration of all creation in Him, entered with Him, as if germinating from a tiny mustard seed.  And if we remain in His kingdom by trusting Him, we will be secure and a part of His glory despite what the very real suffering in the world would have us believe.

I suspect God’s simple answer is not satisfying; some of you might see this as the typical Sunday school answer; you might protest that God simply rescuing us each and every time on demand would be far more profitable to His cause than holding us to faith.   But there would be no relationship in God always removing our pain.  It’s discipline that drives us to Him and love. And love must be a two-way street.  It’s too easy for us to fall back into believing ourselves self-sufficient.  The grim truth is we have hard-wired ourselves in self-interest; it will take some painful rewiring to make us fit in His kingdom.  Besides, our faith is not blind but based on the historical witness and power of Jesus.

The disciples of John the Baptist approached Jesus and asked Him:

John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?’”At that very time Jesus cured many people of diseases, sicknesses, and evil spirits, and granted sight to many who were blind. So he answered them, “Go tell John what you have seen and heard: The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news proclaimed to them. Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” [NET]

It would appear even John the Baptist, who was imprisoned at this time, asked our question.  And Jesus quickly responded, "Yes, I am here!" Jesus proclaimed the advent of the kingdom of God: all that had become disordered is being made right. And we are a part of this restoration, both in effect and as His agents. Regardless of what might come our way in this life, we can confidently trust Him and live.

If you are still dubious, then consider this.  I pointed out earlier the question we all ask is an ancient one.  But it didn’t originate with our first ancestors; it began with God, Himself.  When we first turned our back to God, eschewing His love and holiness in deference to the arrogance of our alleged self-sufficiency, when we brought death down upon ourselves by brazenly telling God, “Not your will but mine be done,” when we believed we could be god, it wasn’t us in our low estate who first complained, “Are You there, God?”  No, God--although rejected—first reached out and asked us, “Where are you?”   



Andrea K. Van Ye said...

Two things I know for sure ... what we see is far less than what we do not see, and God is not only in control, He is good. As i study the book of Job this summer, I am deep in thought about similar topics of your post. Keep on seeking the heart of God ...

Anonymous said...

"Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?". Matthew 27:46.