Hiding but not Pretending

March 8, 2008 § 3 Comments

Last week I was headed to St. Louis for a denominational meeting, but before leaving for the airport dear friends called and informed me that their lives had been tragically interrupted by the sudden and unexpected death of a young family member – so instead, I took a train to NYC.

Needless to say, there was no room for make-believe platitudes.  I have learned in times like this that the answer to the question, ‘Why?’ is never ‘Because…’

One of my favorite books comes from a present-day Theologian named Nicholas Wolterstorff.  Though I own most of his works my native intelligence rarely successfully wraps its brain around his deep writings.  But one book stands out (the book I have most widely handed out and cited throughout my ministry) – one he wrote in the shadow of his own 25 year-old son’s unexpected death in a mountain climbing accident.  The book stands out because it offers no platitudes and no quick fixes – only a father’s broken heart – a dad who loves Christ but who doesn’t understand why he was robbed of his son.  And in that time of reflection (a reflecting that I suspect will continue until they are reunited in the new heaven), he concluded that the Gospel is the recurring story of a God who endlessly gives Himself to us.

He writes this:

“…great mystery: to redeem our brokenness and lovelessness the God who suffers with us did not strike some mighty blow of power but sent his beloved son to suffer like us, through his suffering to redeem us from suffering and evil.

Instead of explaining our suffering God shares it.” 

Lament for a Son, p. 81, Wm.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987 

There is something in the common Christian consciousness that seems to thirst for ready-made solutions for every conceivable painful event – a one-size-fits-all response packet – sort of like telemarketers armed with questions for each attempted rejection by their defenseless victims on the other line.  I can only assume that we believe that if we have an answer when the effects of our fallen world hit us personally that we won’t hurt so deeply.  Yet the false presumptions of being ‘safe’ from the deep hurts of life seem proportionate to the devastation we feel when they inevitably come.

In thinking on this I was reminded of that Seinfeld episode where the main characters believed they could overcome their stresses by saying, ‘Serenity now.’  However by the end of the show they were shouting these words – almost attempting to command themselves to manufacture a peace they didn’t really have.

Telling ourselves that we can ‘handle it,’ or that ‘it isn’t so bad’ only either makes the Faith lack credibility to an already skeptical world, or it gives the appearance of an impossible-to-please God to those within the Church who honestly struggle with the broken things in their lives.

Hey, listen – it is the most natural thing in the world to dread pain’s force – but here is the thing – artificial attempts to deny its potency through make-believe strength is really a denial of God’s passion for us in our brokenness.  It is a preemptive strike against the Gospel – the unwillingness to accept that our world is wounded, that at times it will damage us personally, and that God loves us even when we can’t see it, don’t believe it, don’t accept it, and grieve it – yet honestly accept that every sinew of its dark force injures us.

And there is something so refreshingly honest and sweet about a Christian who loves Jesus and at the same time embraces the truth of his or her sorrows.  It is not only honest, but it comes with its own healing as well.

My friends are going to make it – I’m confident of this – they are not pretending, but right now they are hiding – in their God (Psalm 91) – I think that is a good thing.




§ 3 Responses to Hiding but not Pretending

  • Fred says:

    I’ve wrestled with such things in a course I am taking–wherein I wondered if I really do suffer in my life. (A friend and I at our local coffee shop decided, “yes.”) Whether it is the loss of a son, maybe just through his will to completely separate from his parents whom he claims to hate, or a young person struggling with terrible fears induced by the way God made her mind, we still only may get to, “I don’t know….” Christians are those crazy enough — no really sane enough — to be able to continue with, “but, I will trust Him who can never forget me nor forsake me.”

    Thanks for these words.

  • Mike Houghton says:

    Thanks for going to New York instead of St. Louis. And thanks for the encouraging words… to remain honest… to take shelter when needed… to find solace in God’s suffering with us… to hold (and be held by) the hope of His promise.

  • trukdriver says:

    thanks for your writing.
    it is so hard to let go of pursuit of solutions and serenity.

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