I have been writing.
Well, rewriting, anyway.
Right after the bombing and goings on in Boston, I wrote a response to some of the hate-filled things that I saw coming from people of faith…my faith. As a person who has been forgiven much, and one whose life has been characterized by peace-making, I was deeply troubled.
God seemed to be holding me to the thoughts because I kept coming back to the themes of love and brotherly kindness, grace and forgiveness—but even with that I just didn’t feel the release to post. It was as if it needed to percolate a little while longer.
Then this week in Cleveland three young women, who have been missing a decade or more, were found and freed. All of the newscasts on every channel have been totally dedicated to covering every detail over and over and over. As with Boston, it didn’t really matter if the news was new, it seemed to be necessary to repeat it.
One of the things I quickly noticed that the coverage in Cleveland had with the news coverage of the Boston disaster was a question that was being asked often and loudly: how could this happen? Why? I began to lift my voice and found myself asking the question the prophet Habakkuk asked as well: How long, Lord? How long will you allow evil to get the upper hand?
I wish I had an answer. God was pretty clear with Habakkuk that he wasn’t going to like the answer because in Habakkuk’s case things got much worse. God allowed the Babylonians to sweep in and take the Hebrew children captive. I can’t image that message preached very well.
Recently, while translating Ephesians from the Greek with a friend, we found ourselves in a discussion about predestination. Not a place I usually like to go, because I don’t get it. On the one hand there is abundant scriptural evidence for the lavish love of God, demonstrated in grace and mercy. But there is also the story of Job, the painful experience of Naomi, the unfair treatment of Joseph’s brothers, and all the misery Paul endured while trying to grow the church of Christ. History is full of examples of persecution—some of it even coming at the hands of the Church!
I do not understand why God allows his followers to suffer. I don’t know why, if God is all knowing (and I believe he is), he wouldn’t stop someone from committing destructive acts against another person. I realize that I often learn lessons best when they are hard, when they cost me. Hard lessons don’t seem to be solved by easy answers. I’ve found in most cases the tough questions continue to hang out there defying any answer at all.
This is as close to pessimism as I come. Because when I get this close I immediately turn the other way. I’m not foolish enough to belief that it’s going to go away just because I chose not to dwell on it. Realistically, though, I know that there is very little I will ever do to rid the world of evil. That being said there are still things I can and must do:
1. I will forgive. No one has ever gained anything good by harboring an unforgiving spirit. It is a poison that kills the one who carries it. Jesus was pretty clear that with the same portion we forgive others, we will be forgiven. I choose to be extravagant because I know how much I need.
2. I will pray for my enemies. I will not allow hate to percolate in my heart. I will lift them before the throne of grace.
3. I will thank God for all the circumstances in my life. Nowhere does it state in scripture that I will understand why things happen. Faith doesn’t exempt me from suffering. Both Peter and Paul are pretty clear that there is a measure of worthiness involved when we suffer. James takes it one step further by instructing the believers to count it all joy when trials enter into their lives.
4. I will hold onto my “nevertheless” faith. When the three Hebrew servants faced the fiery furnace, they were clear with the king that their faith was still strong, and even if God did not save them from the fire, nevertheless they would hold strong. Habakkuk put it this way:
Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,
And there are no grapes on the vines;
Even though the olive crop fails,
And the fields lie empty and barren;
Even though the flocks die in the fields,
And the cattle barns are empty,
YET I will rejoice in the Lord!
I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!
The Sovereign Lord is my strength! (Habakkuk 3:17-19a)
That’s a pretty bleak picture. It’s a pretty clear “no matter what” coming from the prophet.
Jesus was looking for that same faith in his disciples. At the very end of his time with them before the crucifixion, he looked at them and said: “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NLT)
Peace will not be found in this world. It only brings turmoil and trouble. Real peace can only be found in Jesus and the knowledge that he invites to a life that will go beyond this world.
I don’t feel like I solved any great mystery here. I’m still troubled by the quick judging and slow forgiving. But I feel more grounded. I am reminded what I need to hold onto, and what I am to let go—to give to God. And perhaps that will be enough. For now…it is.