My children have eaten their fill every day of their lives. They’ve never missed a meal, never gone to bed hungry. So last week, when I quoted Psalm 37:25 on Twitter and Facebook, (“I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread”) it was an act of praise and thanksgiving.
Then I received a private note from a friend in Africa. “I have seen righteous men and their children begging. What do I do with that?” I know his voice. There was no argument in his observation. He was not trying to one-up me or pick a fight. There was nothing public in his response. His question was genuine.
My friend is no stranger to sorrow. Nor is he a stranger to success. He is a quiet example of service and devotion. His name is known in Heaven, even if it rarely rates a mention on earth. He is a man of compassion: there are seasons in which he finds no soul-rest over the tension between the goodness of God and the sorrow of human life. His is a life of honest lament, heartfelt empathy, and devotion to Jesus that most of us would envy.
His question is almost never asked in Christian circles: What do you do when your personal experience flies in the face of the Biblical testimony?
His question is not academic. He has no interest in a philosophical discussion about God’s goodness and power, or about the existence of evil. He trusts the Father, he listens to the voice of God, and orders his life around Jesus and his kingdom. Yet he has held dying children in his arms, and seen the damage done to fathers and mothers who cannot provide for the ones they love. He has also heard shallow praise born of thoughtless prosperity and listened to wiki-Christian answers incapable of lasting the night.
In this holy week, are we willing to give ourselves to a dangerous meditation? What do you do when your personal experience flies in the face of the Biblical testimony? Do you demand an accounting from God? Do you deny the truth of what you have seen and experienced? Do you push the tension away and focus instead only on the good?
But what if the good comes with heartfelt pain? What if the good means feeling forsaken? What if the good leads us to the cross?
The very place where there are no answers is one place where we can expect to find Jesus himself. If we refuse to settle for easy answers that cost us nothing, if we refuse to settle for religious activity as a substitute for the presence of God, it will simply be enough that he is there.