Audio Version Read by Cheryl touched-by-tragedy-ss11-15-20-1.mp3
We aren’t totally aware of what we are leaning on for support until it is needed. This often involves adversity of some kind – sickness, loss, death. Suddenly we are face to face with what has perhaps unconsciously been our sustaining framework of value, worth, and meaning. What if it crumbles? Or is insufficient? This is the defining conflict of so many of us right now.
I am observing and participating in the tragedy of our times, touched by the struggles of friends and family as well as my own. My soul is grieved and wounded with their pain. Some filter sorrow through the love of God, inexplicable yet tangible, sustained by the promises and the hope that listening to Him inspires. Others are being slowly unwound by the lies, illusions, and dashed hopes of a heartless universe and a bent populace. People cope as best they can, bandaging the deep gashes on their hearts rather than seeking surgery, choosing to live broken rather than risk trusting. Some succeed to varying degrees. Others succumb and never recover, drowned in addiction, depression, or isolation. It is into this scenario of struggle that God inserts Himself unexpectedly as a human being – unimaginable, inconceivable, bringing light into the darkness. Jesus lived with a heart broken for His beloved people, allowing Himself to experience the worst this world had to offer from friend and foe alike – to be underestimated, misunderstood, maligned, tortured, despised and even killed. He chose pain so He could offer comfort.
I have been questioning the ‘ultimates’ more frequently as life unfolds and culture unravels. God’s consolation makes more sense than ever. That probably seems like a crutch, but it’s the best one I have used – a path through, not around, the inequality and chaos of our mortality. I reached this conclusion after experimenting with various escapes. I had the perfect relationship, did the euphoria inducing drugs and alcohol, denied the existence of God to free myself from guilt for my choices, morassed my thoughts in philosophy, had a meaningful career, and lots of friends. Yet when catastrophe struck and distraction was demolished, none of these things even came close to reaching my soul with comfort – and certainly not hope. Did the escapes mask the problem? Sure, but the valley was deeper when the ‘solution’ wore off. I was loved and cared for, but no one – not even me – knew the source of my despair, and could not help. The best experiences this life offers are freely given gifts of a benevolent God, but they cannot fill the bottomless need in our lives. We are made of stardust – our souls are endless and require infinite fulfillment. We live frustrated lives trying to figure out why we are so restless and dissatisfied, why materialism is inadequate. Trouble forces us to face this dilemma honestly.
The God I serve was touched by tragedy beyond anything we mere mortals can even imagine. He is maligned as being the unfeeling author of sorrow, when in truth, that curse was actually the brain child of God’s antagonist, the one who came to steal, kill and destroy. Jesus promises that Satan’s cruel domination is only temporary – as is our opportunity to choose sides. When we think wrong about God we don’t get much else right. Cheap grace religion reduces Christianity to a pitifully weak adherence to dogma and doctrine, requiring the bare minimum of assent and even less action. It is a shallow distortion of Jesus’ call to discipleship. It is no wonder that the church is held in contempt by a culture searching for something worth living for. God is mischaracterized by her example.
Suffering, sorrow, searching for an explanation for life’s pervasive misery primes us for an encounter with the God Who has answers. The taxing troubles of our times force us to confront reality and evaluate whether our worldview can accommodate the devastation. Cold indifferent chance, mechanical cosmic progression, evolution of the species, rationalism, materialism, idealism, empiricism – what is your explanation? Is it personally satisfying when you are distressed? If it fails to provide answers and comfort, there is a reliable alternative. Someone even came back from the dead to confirm its validity!
The inimitable CS Lewis weighs in on the problem of pain, and gives an incisive viewpoint to that thing we so assiduously avoid: “If the first and lowest operation of pain shatters the illusion that all is well, the second shatters the illusion that what we have, whether good or bad in itself, is our own and enough for us. Everyone has noticed how hard it is to turn our thoughts to God when everything is going well with us. We ‘have all we want’ is a terrible saying when ‘all’ does not include God. We find God an interruption. As St Augustine says somewhere, ‘God wants to give us something, but cannot, because our hands are full—there’s nowhere for Him to put it.’ Or as a friend of mine said, ‘We regard God as an airman regards his parachute; it’s there for emergencies but he hopes he’ll never have to use it.’ Now God, who has made us, knows what we are and that our happiness lies in Him. Yet we will not seek it in Him as long as he leaves us any other resort where it can even plausibly be looked for. While what we call ‘our own life’ remains agreeable we will not surrender it to Him. What then can God do in our interests but make ‘our own life’ less agreeable to us, and take away the plausible source of false happiness? From The Problem of Pain
Sadly, pain is inevitable. It can be a tool for our deliverance or our destruction. We cannot realistically insist that life must be fair for us or our friends. Sorrow does not have to undo us, but can instead open a door to a healing relationship. Suffering is only temporary, how we respond to it is permanent. Jesus came not to judge but to save. “He treasures those who He has created, planned for, longed for, sorrowed over, redeemed, and befriended.” from the Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard
He just asks us to give Him the trust He has paid such a price to earn.