Welcome to November. The days are getting darker and it feels the world is, too.
As I write this, the world is grieving the horrifying loss of a Jewish community in Pittsburgh and the New York Times is headlining a story today about babies born into homelessness and innocent people in Yemen are starving to death and my friend still can’t sleep at night due to severe, incurable health problems.
The truth is by the time you are reading this, there will only be more of it. More 911 dispatches, more global atrocities, more racist comments, more funerals, more people in our very neighbourhoods (physical or otherwise) will share with us the ways they are broken and suffering.
Hey, nobody has ever accused me of being an optimist.
Lest you be concerned that everyone who writes in this community is currently a candidate for sainthood, let me be real. Sometimes God just seems too detached and ignorant to possibly have any handle of the enormity of suffering that plagues our world. Sometimes, faith just doesn’t feel good or right. There, I said it.
Yet it’s that very same faith that allows me to come right out and say it. What I love about Christian practice is that God lets us lament, cry out, shake our fists, point fingers, and sometimes even curse him, but still sets us a place at the table. In fact, he still wants us there. This is the miracle.
But I fear we often dance around that aspect of faith, or doubt, or whatever is in between the two, as it often feels. It seems much easier, and the optics are certainly more pleasant, when we focus on the goodness, love, joy, and hope message of the gospel. It’s more comfortable when we want to raise our hands and cry “Hallelujah.”
But hang out in the community of the faithful long enough and you will hear story after story of unrealized dreams, broken hearts, overwhelming grief, biting conflict, and unrelenting longing. You will also hear stories of redemption, renewed hope, dreams realized, and miraculous healing, but what’s confusing is those things don’t always directly correspond to the aforementioned disappointments.
How do we keep “faith” in a God that is omnipotent and good in a world that continues to hand down disillusionment, destruction, and death? Or perhaps the better question is, what is real faith? Is it always being excited about what God is up to and feeling connected to our personal devotional times and growing from every sermon?
Or is faith more of a long haul sport? One that will not be sustained by exhilarating highs and blissful happiness, but one will require some room for fragility and perhaps even some cursing from time to time?
God’s been there the whole time. He created the ground and the minds through which we wander. He’s not fazed by our recklessness. He’s not offended by our questions.
I’m willing to wager it’s the latter and this is why: God made us to be daring, thinking, free agents. If he wanted us to be perfectly obedient, flawless robots who do not question, do not struggle, and do not feel pain, he would have made us, well, robots. We would not be made in his image and just think of how boring that would make us.
Rather, God has created us out of pure, sheer, unabashed love. If his expectation for us was perfection, then clearly we aren’t making the cut. But instead, he continues to create and re-create out of love. He brings life and gives hope and shines bright in dark spaces, kind of like a flashlight that says, “over here! Keep walking. I know the way.”
But in all of our brokenness, curiosity, recklessness, denial, shame, fear, whatever it may be, we start to wander and veer. The darkness gets darker and the air gets heavier and we wonder where God is. We assume he’s left us; or worse, perhaps, that we’ve left him. That there is no chance now that he would want us back after such indulgent behaviour.
But God, who created us in love, and to love and be loved; God, who promises to never leave us nor forsake us; God, who beckons us to not be afraid; God, who sings songs of gladness and delight over us – God’s been there the whole time. He created the ground and the minds through which we wander. He’s not fazed by our recklessness. He’s not offended by our questions. He’s not disappointed in our skepticism.
He is bigger, so much bigger, than the darkness, and the heavy clouds that loom over us.
I am not recommending a solution to the problem of suffering. That’s above my pay grade.
I am suggesting that there is a God who is faithful, gentle, loving, and just, who sees us, hears us, and often grieves with us. One who equally wants to hold us and comfort us, as much as he does want to pour his love out through us, to a world that so desperately needs it.
God is fully aware of all of the hideous places our minds, bodies, and spirits will take us, but none of them are too far out of his grip. It’s why we’re invited to be at the table even if we don’t use our “spiritual manners.” Like any good parent, he’d rather have us there and be safe and heard, even at his own expense, than be lost and abandoned.
So wherever you find yourself this season, regardless of whether you feel God or see him at work, or whether you cannot imagine anything more distant, he is near. His love cannot be outrun. It cannot be deceived. He’ll wait as long as he needs to see you home safely and he knows that some of us are kind of taking the slow track to get there.