This is not a time for explanations.
This is not a place for clichés.
This is not a community of wishful thinkers.
It is a time, place and a gathering to call a thing what it is – Jaime’s death is a tragedy. It is a deep and personal loss. A life full of hope and promise was cut short by being in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people whose actions took her life from her and from you, the music she made, the things she cared about and the people she loved.
And out of the depths we cry out.
I just spent the last week at our church camp – Camp Calumet in New Hampshire. Among other things I as asked to do, I led a Bible study on the Book of Job.*
Job is the book of the Bible that tackles the question of human suffering. At its center is the unanswerable question: “why?”
The first proposal is that our suffering is some kind of test.
A deal perhaps made in the heavens to see what we can put up with; or perhaps the lie that God gives us no more than we can handle, or to teach us something valuable in loss. We would be in good company with Job by asking: “What kind of a God is that?”
A second proposal comes from Job’s wife who simply urges him to “curse God and die.”
Who among us in the depths of this pain – would not want to give God a good piece of our mind and tell God to just leave us alone if this world full of injustice and pain is what we are supposed to live in?
Then there’s Job’s friends.
All three of them mean well – but one by one the lot of them reinforce a horrible perspective that all of us on some level believe – that the world works by cause and effect; action requires reaction; crime is met by punishment – that people get what they deserve and what goes around comes around. We have clung to the idea of karma as the true operative force at work in the world – and of Job – or any of us really. The goal of Job’s friends was not to console him but to get him to admit what it is exactly he did wrong / then he (we) could understand why God (or the universe or karma or whatever we want to call the divine) is judging us so harshly.
God responds to Job’s cries.
In the story of Job, God enters the scene by way of a whirlwind of force and power only to remind Job that God is God and Job is not God – that as humans we are the creature and not the Creator. That ultimately no matter how justified we are in our anger and lament – we couldn’t possibly see the big picture in the way God does or make a better world than God has made (and keeps making) even if we tried.
Job tries to understand.
He gives voice to our own outrage and grief while also claiming his limitations and frailty. Job is unable to truly live again until he faces both God and his humanity as he throws all the explanations and clichés away to reveal that all life (however long or short we have it) is a gift.
Job is a story that forces us to face our own questions and realize our empty responses to try to answer them. Job also invites us to encounter the eternal and divine within the limits of our humanity and be OK with the mystery of a world that doesn’t always work in the way we expect or want it to work. It is a story that may leave us wanting; without a true explanation of how bad things happen or why, but one that embraces us in the mystery of humanity and the complexity of the universe.
Out of the depths we cry.
What the Christian story offers us in coming next to Job is not a further explanation of “When bad things happen to good people” (to borrow a phrase from Harold Kushner) or even more clichés that let God off the hook for tragedy, suffering and the unfathomable becoming our own personal hell and reality when someone like Jaime is taken from us.
Our faith calls a thing what it is. What this is – sucks.
But what our faith also teaches us by way of the cross is that we have a God who knows our suffering not because he causes suffering but because Jesus joins us in our suffering.
We have a God that not only knows death not because that is our life-cycle (even a tragic one) but because Jesus meets us in death that is as tragic and cruel.
We have a God that knows our curse of sin and brokenness not because God punishes us so we get what we deserve – but because Jesus became the curse; suffering and dying by injustice and met in abandonment – just like many of us feel right now.
That is what the cross of Jesus Christ is – God joining us in the flesh – in the depths of the worst of our human experience. On the cross and in misery Jesus calls out the misery of what our humanity can be by putting sin, death and evil on trial (rather than us) and taking the verdict and its consequences upon himself in love.
The hope we have in Christ in response to the cross is not wishful thinking. It is a promise. A promise given to people who suffer – like ourselves. To those engrossed by grief and sorrow / shoddy explanations / and the guilt that they often unfairly place upon us.
What is that promise?
Just as Christ knew death and became death; just as he was raised from the dead that first Easter – so to will we be raised. That in this twisted, uncertain, dangerous road this world can be – Christ is making all paths straight. On the cross, Jesus meets us in the weeping and gnashing of our teeth on this day and the days to follow.
The promise of Christ is that one day, weeping will be no more, crying and pain will be no more, death will be no more, and we will all celebrate with Jaime in the city of God, down by the river as Christ makes everything new.
But for now, we sit together and cry out.
For now we feel what we feel and are human to do so.
For now we comfort one another in a world we can neither explain nor control.
For now we pray with both confidence and uncertainty
even if we cannot muster the words for ourselves,
Out of the depths we cry: “Come Lord Jesus, come.” Amen.
(* I extend a special ‘thank you’ to my Bible study group at Family Camp Plus this week [8/19-8/24, 2018] at Camp Calumet . Your conversation and insights were helpful beyond measure in preparation for this day in our response at St. Paul to this horrible tragedy. Peace be with you all. Boom Chick Boom.)
Isaiah 40:1-8 (The Message)
1-2 “Comfort, oh comfort my people,”
says your God.
“Speak softly and tenderly to Jerusalem,
but also make it very clear
That she has served her sentence,
that her sin is taken care of—forgiven!
She’s been punished enough and more than enough,
and now it’s over and done with.”
3-5 Thunder in the desert!
“Prepare for God’s arrival!
Make the road straight and smooth,
a highway fit for our God.
Fill in the valleys,
level off the hills,
Smooth out the ruts,
clear out the rocks.
Then God’s bright glory will shine
and everyone will see it.
Yes. Just as God has said.”
6-8 A voice says, “Shout!”
I said, “What shall I shout?”
“These people are nothing but grass,
their love fragile as wildflowers.
The grass withers, the wildflowers fade,
if God so much as puffs on them.
Aren’t these people just so much grass?
True, the grass withers and the wildflowers fade,
but our God’s Word stands firm and forever.”
WORD OF GOD, WORD OF LIFE. THANKS BE TO GOD
Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord;
Lord, hear my voice;
Let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.
If you, Lord, were to note what is done amiss,
O Lord, who could stand?
For there is forgiveness with you;
Therefore you shall be feared.
I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for him;
In his word is my hope.
My soul waits for the Lord,
More than the watchmen in the morning,
More than the watchmen in the morning.
O Israel, wait for the Lord,
for with the Lord there is mercy.
Revelation 21:1-7 (The Message)
1 I saw Heaven and earth new-created. Gone the first Heaven, gone the first earth, gone the sea. 2 I saw Holy Jerusalem, new-created, descending resplendent out of Heaven, as ready for God as a bride for her husband.
3-5 I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: “Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone.” The Enthroned continued, “Look! I’m making everything new. Write it all down—each word dependable and accurate.”
6-8 Then he said, “It’s happened. I’m A to Z. I’m the Beginning, I’m the Conclusion. From Water-of-Life Well I give freely to the thirsty. Conquerors inherit all this. I’ll be God to them, they’ll be sons and daughters to me.
WORD OF GOD, WORD OF LIFE. THANKS BE TO GOD