Dedicated to Andrea and Becky on their 11th Birthday.
I watched an interesting interview on television the other day. I actually just caught the tail end of it. It was late at night so, I gather from the hour that the news was being televised that it was one of the western affiliates, like Seattle perhaps. Never mind, that really does not matter much to this story. Anyway, the woman being interviewed was very distraught – over what – I have no idea. I suspect from the veracity of her emotion she had lost someone or something very important to her. In the interview she expresses her rage toward God and cries out with the anguish of a psalmist. “Why would God leave us now? Why did this have to happen to us? Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! O Jesus!”
She was expressing the very basic and natural question that people of faith often ask in the midst of a crisis. Why Me? Why now? What have I done to deserve this? I say natural because of course it is indeed the first thing that most of us will feel. How often have people asked me, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” The truth is that bad things happen to ALL people and good things also happen for ALL people. The mistake that we often make is rooted in a theology that assumes that God ordains all the good things that happen – we call those blessings and that God also is ‘testing’ us with all of the bad things that happen. I am not sure how we ever came to adopt such a mechanical theology, but the truth is we see it at work in the way people speak every day.
God does not ordain that bad things should happen to people. I refuse to believe that. How terrible it is a grieving mother is visited by a “Christian” who embraces her and says, “It’s all a part of God’s plan.” Really? Or how desperate when a dying man must hear a ‘friend’ say “God will not give you more than you can handle.” Truly? What kind of God is this? It is the same God oddly enough of the prosperity preachers. You have no doubt seen these purveyors of prosperity on television. If you live right, say the right prayers and do what God wants you will be ‘blessed’ with abundance. Now they will tell you that there is prosperity beyond money – but make no mistake about the basics of that theology. Whatever prosperity it is it is based on God rewarding us for our own good behaviour. This whole thing reduces God to a very Pavlovian sort of being. I remember a man I met once who kept a newspaper rolled in a bundle by one side of his chair and a bucket of dog treats on the other side. His poor dog was rewarded with a whack of the Telegram when he was out of line. A few minutes later he might get a treat for lying down and being quiet. Is that the image we have of God?
I want to go back to the woman on TV crying out to Jesus. In our moment of anguish we ought to cry out to Jesus as surely as he cried out to God the words of Psalm 22 – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” But maturity of faith will bring the believer to a place where she knows that God is all that sustains her in her darkest hour. In the 15th century Julian of Norwich thought herself to be dying. She was very ill. Some suggest that she may have already lost a husband and children to the plague.
On what she thought was her deathbed she had visions which became the inspiration for The Sixteen Revelations of Divine Love. In it she writes,
“If there is anywhere on earth a lover of God who is always kept safe, I know nothing of it, for it was not shown to me. But this was shown: that in falling and rising again we are always kept in that same precious love.”
And therein lies the truth about God. We may feel that we have been forsaken when things do not go our way. We may in fact be angry at the God who loved us into being. God is big enough to take it. But ultimately our faith reminds us that God is not standing over us with a rolled up newspaper in one hand and a treat in the other. Life is, at times, a real bag of dog dung! When bad things happen – it is simply unfair. Life can be unfair! We may be God’s beloved, but there is no place where life does not happen to us. There is no protection from bad things happening to the very best of people. This is verified for us in scripture. See Joseph, Isaac, Moses, David, Job, Ruth, Peter, Paul, Mary the Virgin, Jesus – and this is NOT an extensive list! What is very true is the assertion that Julian of Norwich makes; “In falling and rising again we are always kept in the same precious love.”
Whatever or whomever that woman on TV lost, I know that God did not design that loss and God weeps with her. I know that she loves Jesus because she is prepared to cry out to him and express anger toward him when she needs her anger to be heard. I know that being a believer that she too will know that in falling and in rising again she will always be kept in the same precious love – a love that is promised to us in all times. In my dark hour God is beside me. In my hour of rising God is beside me. As surely as I have cried the words of Psalm 22 when I feel forsaken, I cry those words to a God who is with me in all things and from whom I cannot flee. The Psalmist reminds us of that in Psalm 139:
Where could I go to get away from your spirit?
Where could I go to escape your presence?
If I went up to heaven, you would be there.
If I went down to the grave, you would be there too!
If I could fly on the wings of dawn,
stopping to rest only on the far side of the ocean—
even there your hand would guide me;
even there your strong hand would hold me tight!
If I said, “The darkness will definitely hide me;
the light will become night around me,”
even then the darkness isn’t too dark for you!
Nighttime would shine bright as day,
because darkness is the same as light to you!
We learned this as a family when we lost our nieces Andrea and Becky. As surely as God was with us in the nighttime of losing them, God was also present in the lagther and the joy of last weekends Funfest in their honour. Night or Day – God is there…in the falling and in the rising – Love abides.