I Am…Beloved

Who Am I?

Side-note: this is a continuation of my musings on No Filter so you may want to read that first. 🙂

Our interaction [or lack thereof] with pain made me wonder. Why are we so averse to pain? Yes, it’s unpleasant. Considerably so. But we don’t deal with it. We shove it to the side. Hide it under the bed. Stick our fingers in our ears and sing la-la-la. We’ll do just about anything to avoid dealing with pain. Even attempt to bribe God with our good deeds.

Could it be that we cannot reconcile professing faith in a God full of love while living in a world full of pain?

If He loves me then why am I in pain? It’s a question every Christian has asked at least once. Whether in hushed tones that only angels hear or frustrated tears that voice what no words can, each one of us has wondered. By far one of the greatest moments of cognitive dissonance for any Christian. But rather than take the pink elephant to task, we look outside the window and recite comforting Scripture. We do the best we know how. Sometimes it’s good enough. Most times it’s not.

We can’t pick the parts of life we like and ignore the ones we don’t. Even the world knows it doesn’t work that way. Because every time the world asks us the same question we do what we do best with pain-find a suitable verse in the Bible and hide behind it. And the world looks back at us wondering-then what good is your God?

What good is a God who cannot protect those He claims to love from pain?

Isn’t that the question we’re afraid to ask?

Yet we cannot evade it.

Every single thing that’s wrong with the world screams it.

In all honesty, how can we reach a dying world full of pain, when we don’t even know where to begin with our own [pain]?

As I stood at my kitchen sink one night grappling with these questions I found myself thinking about the Passion of Christ. To date I haven’t watched the movie. But one of the things I repeatedly heard about it when it first came out was how gory it was. They didn’t hold back on the violence. I remembered how even in the mild versions of the tale, I’d fast forward [or change channels] past the part where Jesus gets tried all the way till after He gets crucified. I wouldn’t call myself squeamish. I do watch my fair share of action and thriller flicks. But this is different. This is Jesus.

And just like the movie we fast forward His suffering in real life. When in fact every brutal scene should be permanently etched in our hearts.

This is Jesus. Having his skin shredded by whips. This is Jesus. Being spat on. This is Jesus. Having nails driven through His battered body. This is Jesus. Deserted by all who’d declared their devotion to Him, a devotion that was nowhere to be found when it really mattered.

This is Jesus. And that should have been me.

“Our tendency in the midst of suffering is to turn on God. To get angry and bitter and shake our fist at the sky and say, “God, you don’t know what it’s like! You don’t understand! You have no idea what I’m going through. You don’t have a clue how much this hurts.”

The cross is God’s way of taking away all of our accusations, excuses, and arguments.

The cross is God taking on flesh and blood and saying, “Me too.”

― Rob Bell

Now, why would He go through all of THAT…FOR ME…only to turn around and leave me in anguish? Why would He not only risk His life, but lose it, to save me…only to turn around and throw me under a bus?

“There is no circumstance, no trouble, no testing, that can ever touch me until, first of all, it has gone past God and past Christ, right through to me. If it has come that far, it has come with great purpose.”

– Alan Redpath

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son. John 3:16. The unofficial Christian motto. The greatest testament of God’s love for us is Christ crucified on the cross. Brutally. So who told us that love cannot coexist with pain? That pain cannot be used for a loving purpose. When did we decide that the only way God can prove He loves us, is to shield us pain and suffering? As though His love for us only has power in the “good”. As though His love for us is somehow paralyzed by the “bad”.

“To some, the image of a pale body glimmering on a dark night whispers of defeat. What good is a God who does not control his Son’s suffering? But another sound can be heard: the shout of a God crying out to human beings, “I LOVE YOU.” Love was compressed for all history in that lonely figure on the cross, who said that he could call down angels at any moment on a rescue mission, but chose not to – because of us. At Calvary, God accepted his own unbreakable terms of justice.

Any discussion of how pain and suffering fit into God’s scheme ultimately leads back to the cross. ”

― Philip Yancey

In this world you will have sorrow…[John 16:33]. Jesus wasn’t making a suggestion. He was warning us. Will. Not if but when. I’m leaving you in a fallen world and you will face sorrow. That’s a bitter pill to swallow especially if your buy-in into Christianity is based on a happily-ever after scenario here on earth. I side with God and He makes everything nice and easy for me. But that isn’t how it works. It never has been. From the days of the Bible till now the same thing is evident: even when He is not the cause of the pain and suffering, He doesn’t always step in to prevent it.

“It is understandably disruptive when Job discovers that the world is not as ordered as he thought.  It is disruptive to find out that the secure land Job had built his house on had been an illusion—that he, like all the rest of us, had always been living at sea, a place where beautiful and terrible things happen…seemingly indiscriminately.”

– Jonathan Martin

God surprised me. Because when I asked Him to teach me about love, He taught me about pain and suffering in the same breath. He taught me that love suffers long but never ever in vain. I have seen Him wield pain and use it for so much good it leaves me awe-struck. To be joyful in the darkness no longer seems a farfetched notion. For birds don’t wait for the sun to rise to sing. They know without a doubt that dawn is coming. They welcome it even before they see it.

I don’t have neat stoic answers to all the questions concerning why God allows the things He does. Most of my truths are messy and raw. They refuse to fit into neat little boxes. Kinda like my God.

I find my rest in this. The pain and suffering may beat us down for a time, but it will never overwhelm us. Unless we let it. For dawn comes in the morning. Dawn always comes in the morning. It’s His sacred promise.

…Take heart. I have overcome the world. The world within. The world without. My victory is guaranteed for you. It is finished.

What is so disturbing about the book of Job is that it blows the lid off the theology of retribution.  That is that theology that says, If you do good then good things will happen to you; if you do bad then bad things will happen to you.  That is the kind of world we can understand, order, and best of all, control.  When Job encounters the sea, He encounters the chaos and disorder within the creation.  He is presented with an undomesticated God who is not the originator of the chaos, but who does in fact allow it for a time until the creation will be restored to its intended beauty.  There are no tightly ordered systems, there is no guarantee that any created thing will avoid the wildness or even suffering.  Job must learn how to confront a world like that where there are no guarantees, and yet learn to live without fear.  I think here of Frederick Buechner’s beautiful quote: “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.”

– Jonathan Martin

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