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« The Welcome Interruption | Main | Parable of the Unfair God »

Meditation: Where there are no answers

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.

Reader Comments (9)

You do irritate me as well, sometimes, Pastor, with your commentary. I almost sent you the same thing but I don't expect something like the reply you posted in response to your friend. I suppose I would have liked you to examine whether the verse you quoted is actually something like a "biblical testimony" -- as you name it here; or is it a promise -- something that you seem to imply. It would be simple thing to name it one or the other. With one response you would then create the dichotomy you ask us to examine. With the other response a different conversation is created. This is not moot nor merely academic: Real Christians make real Decisions based on what they hear in church -- including Vineyard churches -- about finances and tithing and so forth. And this verse is often used in these kinds of contexts.

All the same, I commend you. You have more courage than other Pastoral figures known to me.

April 2, 2012 | Unregistered Commentercharles

amen. amen. amen.

April 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterA

Thank you, Ray. Yes, we need to meditate on questions like the one asked. Do we continue to preach on and pray for healing when someone has died after so many prayers for intervention? Do we hold God to promises of blessings when there are so many in poverty? What do we do with the agony of praying for children and grandchildren to know the Lord (Eph 1:15+) then see them glance His way, yet walk in the opposite direction? During Holy Week, the church often jumps from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday without hardly a footnote of what happened in between. The foot of the cross may not have answers, but it offers solace, comfort and peace. They come with tears and heartache, but He is there.

April 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJo Ann Shugert

Jo Ann: If there is ever a time for such thoughts, I figure it's this week. Thanks for dropping by.

A: and Amen

Charles: It's never my intent to irritate anyone, so I must presume on your good will to understand that I have no targets, only things to share.

April 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRay Hollenbach

I was in that position last night, with our 12 year old. Something she prayed for didn't happen the way she wanted, and I gave her those crummy wiki Christian answers. Then I just held her, because I don't know.

(Then I told her to pray. To listen for God's voice, which confused her. She reported this morning that after she prayed, she recognized a pattern on her wall that comforted her. I told her that's how God comforts his children. Lame? I don't know.)

April 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer Luitwieler

Jennifer: Definitely not lame. Your arms are his arms, and when the "answers" don't seem to make sense, a loving presence may be the best answer of all. As for her experience with the pattern on the wall, look at all the ways God has spoken to his people through the centuries. If your daughter was comforted, and her ideas don't blatantly contradict God's revealed word, we might safely conclude that the Holy Spirit visited her in the night.

April 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRay Hollenbach

Dear Sir, Thank you for this particular post. I have had a moment recently where the evil I see perpetrated on the innocent is so great that I cannot understand why the intervening hand of a just God is absent. Why miraculous, affirming heavenly intervention from a Loving Father seems to fail to come. I don't understand. It makes me sob into my husband's chest sometimes and make my chest physically ache. Jesus is there. He never left. You reminded me.

April 3, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterfarfromhome

Dear Far From Home: I am so pleased this post helped you in some way. I'm also pleased that, together, you and your husband could be gently reminded to look for His presence, even in the middle of such great injustice. Peace to you.

April 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRay Hollenbach

Pastor, of course: I did not mean to suggest that you would purposefully irritate - though as Paul Coughlin points out, maybe sometimes the Lord can be seen doing this in his responses. I again commend you - really - for demontrating the freedom to talk about things. My irritation is probably rather with a Charismatic world that does not seem to want to think too deeply about things at times and discourages this.

June 3, 2012 | Unregistered Commentercharles

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