Monday, March 30, 2009

life, death, hope and suffering - the painful beautiful paradox

This evening, knowing that Isaac was at a work meeting and wouldn't be home for dinner, I went exploring. I nabbed some Vietnamese food at a place I discovered on Sunday, drove to the beautiful campus of a local community college, and enjoyed my dinner and a book by the lake.

It was one of those moments, the first I've had in a long time, where peace just infiltrated all the little cracks in my soul. As I left the campus with the Selah softly playing, the cool evening air blowing through my windows, and the golden sun setting everything on fire - I was so overwhelmed by joy and peace and decided I wasn't ready to go home yet. I found a quiet corner surrounded by trees and watched the sun set and began to pray, and think....

I was suddenly struck by the heavy weight and reality of sorrow going on around me that really seems to contradict all that joy.

How is it possible for me to be sitting there feeling overwhelming joy, while listening to the voices of Nicole and Todd, who now both struggle with the loss of a child a year ago? Their blogs still just emanate sadness. Isn't that joy and that deep sorrow contradictory? How is God real in both of those realities? (all of the words in italics in the following paragraphs are lyrics that were playing as I thought and prayed about all of this).
I will follow You through green pastures
And sing hallelujah to Your Name
I will follow You through dark disaster
And sing hallelujah through the pain
I was sitting there, reading John 11:25 and thinking about Alysa's blog about an amazingly worshipful concert last night. At the same time it was quite likely that Alice, who wrote about John 11:25 that morning, was with her dying mom in the hospital.
And even in the shadow of death
I will praise You
And even in the valley I will say
Holy, my God
You are worthy of all my praise
I thought of my dear friend Simon, who I have been talking with about suffering and pain, and whose facebook today reflected that struggle. I quoted something from Moltman to him about hope in response, but the truth is that right now I too have felt discouraged by life. I have been musing on the contrast of my childhood delight with the beauty of life, and now struggling with the monotony of life... and wondering if there is a hope to regain that delight IN LIFE, or is it only waiting for heaven?
There is no life - no life without its hunger;
Each restless heart beats so imperfectly;
But when you come and I am filled with wonder,
Sometimes, I think I glimpse eternity.
And Martha and Mary themselves, in John 11 - their own pain echoes what I see around me. "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died."

Isn't that sort of the crux of our question, our cry? Like Martha, we say that we understand that there is a resurrection, and that there is a future hope, but RIGHT NOW, how can we reconcile the presence of a God that we call good, and then the depth of darkness and pain around us? In some sense, we all say, my brother is STILL DEAD, though You are here. And... how are we to respond? This complex combination of the miracle and joy of life and the tragedy of death and pain is something I am constantly coming back to and wondering over again.

I guess, in some ways, it is simply a paradox. I mean, even Jesus, when He walked in to the grief of those women that He loved and watch them deal with death, even He who knew the reality and depth of HOPE that He Himself would provide; even then His response was to be, "deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled". He wept with the women. So - our grief and dismay at our pain, our suffering... it is appropriate. In Colossians Paul says, "In my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church." My friend Simon mentioned this in our discussion, and how this passage doesn't say that the atonement of Christ is insufficient, rather, it emphasizes that we participate with Christ is suffering in order to redeem. Suffering was not only the call of Christ, it is our call. And it is for a purpose. Redemption.

I am thankful that the hope of Christ is not a trump card that negates grief. Grief in pain are all too real to deny. Instead, it is the side-by-side existence of suffering and hope that makes our faith so uniquely poignant.

"I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live even though he dies."

Interesting that death is not done away with, eh? Though we are promised life, we are still also brought through death.

I grappled with all of those thoughts through teary eyes as the sun went down on my quiet car and the last of the Selah songs, and I prayed not that God would take away my own personal pain or difficulty, but that I would remember that true LIFE, the kind of poignant life that can live in peaceful paradox with suffering, is not found in attaining the perfect situation in my career, family, friends, location, or finances... but only in Christ. May I not forget, because that sort of soul death is worse then the loss of physical life.


Melissa said...

what a good reminder. thanks.

Alysa said...

This was my favorite part of this post: "I am thankful that the hope of Christ is not a trump card that negates grief. Grief in pain are all too real to deny. Instead, it is the side-by-side existence of suffering and hope that makes our faith so uniquely poignant." Beautifully written, Kace. Love you.

Alice said...

We don't even know each other, but it seems we think many of the same thoughts. I too often listen to Selah with much sorrow for Todd & Nicole, yet also infused with hope through their singing. And every word of John chapter 11 is life to me...thank you for this beautiful post...

Elizabeth Symington said...

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Thank you for vising my site and commenting on how to improve traffic. I'm actually already signed up for the problogger event. He has lots of excellent plans and I'm looking forward to improving my site.

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I do want a cohesive blog, so I was wondering what disparity you saw from the statement in the header to the content on the site?

take care,