Do you see it? How with each good thing there is a passive negative? I often don't know how to express honestly how I am, how life is. You see, the good things ARE good, and I am actually glad for them, I am not merely being passive aggressive. It's just that if I only said those things it wouldn't show the difficult things. But if I only say the difficult things, for one thing it makes me appear depressed or angry (I am not), and people simply don't know how to respond. People respond to happy things and funny things. They don't know how to respond to painful daily grind.
And that... that is exactly a little picture of the broader things I have been wrestling with spiritually, internally over this past year. I have known that my theme for this year (I wrote next year, but … it's already this year!) is joy. I was attempting to describe it to Isaac, how when I think of this year I expect it to be challenging (what with the slow process of building a life and community and ministry here, and having a third child and all), but manageable. But that sounds pretty defeatist, doesn't it? I don't want to just manage. I can muscle up and soldier on and all of that. But there is something niggling at me, something about how, in the midst of a time that is good but not easy, if the gospel is true and the Spirit is in me, there is that “peace that passes understanding” and “more glory than the world has known” (Josh Garrels there). It is the recognition of that that I want to dig into in 2016.
But you know, even as I was trying to put that into words for Isaac, I stopped and stalled and it fell flat because it sounds so triumphal, so very American Christian that sings “I got the victory, sweet sweet victory in Jesus” and is all about how Jesus saved me and my whole life is changed now, and look at all that God is doing in the world! But at least in my experience, this American Evangelical narrative doesn't sit well with suffering, and well, we are still suffering. All of us.
I felt it at Christmas. I deeply resonate with the Christmas songs of longing. I felt almost like Advent was like Lent, that waiting and expectation and desperation. I wrote about it on here, about O Come, O Come Emmanuel. I thought about the longing and waiting of a people for the arrival of a Messiah. I thought about the song “Christ is Risen from the Dead”, the favorite of my church at Easter. It is the response to all that is longed for in O Come, O Come. From “death's dark shadows” to “O death, where is your sting?”
But then why do I still resonate more half the time with O Come, O Come Emmanuel, when He HAS come?
I found a great quote from Karl Barth when I was writing out all of this about joy, and my amazing husband managed to find its source in Barth's commentary on Romans, and then I spent a while reading chapters worth of his thoughts. The end of chapter 8 in Romans is triumphant, it's all “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” And “nothing else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God.”
But you know, as I read through the pages of Barth and copied down quote after quote that struck me, I recognize that the triumphalism is in the midst of many more verses of the struggle. The internal struggle, the struggle of all of creation groaning, and the recognition that we, even we who already have the promise in us, “groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”
“Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened.” 2 Corinthians 5:4
And that's where I feel a bit stuck. In the, “Already, but not yet.”
I believe in a God who is at work in the world. I believe in a God who is calling all things to redemption, and Who is also doing this in and through me. But in the meantime, as we live out our lives in a world where He has done the work but has not come and made all things new, how are we to live? With the victory of Christ, but still “groaning inwardly”. How, practically, does that actually work?
All these small things like my husband getting dengue fever before Christmas or me struggling with loneliness without a place in this community yet, all of these are just small pictures of greater suffering. I am still sifting through the pieces of my sister's assault and rape this summer, of the horror and anger at all of that. I live in a world where my sister was brutally assaulted and raped. I live in a world where we are not safe, where violence abounds, where death steals, where corruption covers, where trauma leaves panic attacks and anxiety that can be crippling for a young woman sorting through the aftermath.
Jesus came. And He heals. And His Spirit is in us. He offers grace to all. He redeems all things. I believe it. I cling to it.
But how in the world do we live with both of those being true, and the second not all fulfilled yet? I will echo Barth here:
No careless attitude to present tribulation can stand even before the aching of a tooth, and still less before the brutal realities of birth, sickness, and death, before the iron reality which governs the broad motions of the lives of men and the stern destiny of nations. Beneath each slight discomfort, and notably beneath the greater miseries of human life, there stands clearly visible the vast ambiguity of its finiteness. How are we able to meet this?
I have a second half of this post but I wanted to end this post here for now, despite it being uncomfortable, because it is okay to sit with pain and suffering and not understand, not resolve, not have answers yet.
The simple fact we must face is this: something is wrong with everything. No matter how closely we walk with the Lord, we cannot escape the impact of a disappointing and sometimes evil world. A core sadness that will not go away is evidence not of spiritual immaturity but of honest living in a sad world. - Larry Crabb