my fault, my fault, my most Grievous fault

Angel 10

Nestled amongst the major prophets of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel lies the small but powerful book of Lamentations.  While the prophets offer the dooming judgment of Almighty God upon Israel and Judah, trapped within the chaos and devastation of their own making, Lamentations allows a glimpse of the raw, exposed emotions of Jerusalem and their cry to The Almighty.  This book is a nation in agony and despair recognizing its responsibility and ownership in its current depravity and rejection by God.

This book speaks of horrors occurring against and within Jerusalem:  armies rising against the people, mothers eating their children, humility of a once-beloved nation, a beautiful city now destroyed and in dust, bodies that waste away in disease and decay.

What is most striking is the fact that this nation, according to the Sacred Writer, acknowledges her responsibility in the devastation she now faces:

“The LORD is in the right, for I have rebelled against his word…” (1:18)

“The LORD has done what he purposed, he has carried out his threat…” (2:17)

“Why should any who draw breath complain about the punishment of their sins?” (3:39)

This book reveals the anguish of the people as a nation, BUT she also accepts her portion as due consequence of her previous actions.

Additionally, through its devastation, she honors God and blesses His sovereignty:

“The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end…” (3:22)

“For the LORD will not reject forever…” (3:31)

“You have taken up my cause, O LORD, you have redeemed my life…” (3:58)

God’s justice is acknowledged; His mercy is present though not immediately felt by the people.  What makes this book invaluable to the canon is that this is the one book that offers the cries of an entire nation in mourning over the loss of her relationship with the Father of her ancestors.  AND she bears the full responsibility for her loss.  Even though the writer mentions the love and mercy of God, the last two verses of the book offer substantial doubt if she is a people who even could be redeemed:

“Restore us to yourself, O LORD, that we may be restored; renew our days as of old—-unless you have utterly rejected us, and are angry with us beyond measure.” (5:21-22).

I’m suffering… Where’s the protection??

guardianangel

1 Peter 13-9

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,  and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,  who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.  In this you rejoice,[a] even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials,  so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.  Although you have not seen[b] him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy,  for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

There are a couple of phrases that stand out to me  The first is, “you…who are being protected by the power of God through faith…”  What does “being protected” mean?  I question this because, at the time that the gospels were written after Jesus’s death and resurrection (about 60-70 AD) , Christians were being persecuted for their faith.  We study the lives of the martyrs who suffered for their faith.  So that brings me back to this idea of “protection” and what it means if there are so many who were being persecuted.  It doesn’t seem, in OUR language, that the word protection means the same thing now as it did then.  I mean… we wear a seat belt in our cars for protection.  Kids wear helmets when riding their bikes for protection. Some people carry guns for protection.  So what does Peter mean when he says protection?

I think to help answer this, we need to look further in the text.  He says, “in this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith…is tested by fire – may result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”  So…looking at the beginning of this passage, Peter talks about protection, and now he speaks of suffering.

Sorry, but now I’m REALLY confused!!

I think back to what I’ve been studying in my Church History class.  We recently studied the first Fathers, hermits, and martyrs from about 100-300AD.  These men and women suffered for the devotion to their faith.  The were tortured for days, months, and some for years.  The Diocletian Persecution was one of the most brutal events against Christians in the 300s.  So if these Christians were persecuted and suffered for Christ, how were they protected?  And what does that mean for us?

We, in this country, don’t suffer persecution for our faith as they did.  But we do suffer.  We go through illnesses and death of friends and family and feel that loss; we endure our own illnesses; we go through divorce; we go through financial hardships; we endure tragedies much like Arkansas and the south is suffering now in the wake and aftermath of these tornadoes.  There are all kinds of suffering going on, and not all of them physical and for the sake of Christ.

I believe there is a distinction we should make here that the protection Peter speaks of is not a protection of our bodies but a protection of our spirit, our soul, that part of us which is connected to God.  That is what He protects.  Though our bodies may hurt and our feelings, our emotions, can be devastated by pain and loss, that connection we have to the Risen Christ is never broken or harmed.  As Peter says, it is protected “by the power of God through faith.”

Now.  We know our spirits are protected by God and are kept safe.  So now that brings me back to suffering.  When we endure hardship, pain, loss, confusion, we forget all the trivialities in our lives and are consumed by what we are going through.  We forget about and ignore the gossip and whisperings happening at work.  We forget about which teams are playing in the next baseball game.  We don’t give a second thought to the details of the next booster club event.  All the recognize is that we are hurting, and that suffering brings clarity.  An analogy I can think of is going to the gym.  When a person first starts working out at the gym, they might be able to do 5 or 6 push ups.  The more they work out, they stronger they become.  After working out for 6 months, they can probably do 40 or 50 push ups.  That number might have been unheard of 6 months prior.  Another analogy is think back to when we were in our teens and twenties.  Some of the issues we faced then seemed insurmountable at the time.  Now, in hindsight, those problems might be a drop in the bucket compared to things we’ve seen or endured since then.  And to hear a teen or twenty year old speak of their “problems”, well, we just might want to scoff at them and say, “Trust me, you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet!”

But that suffering that we physically or emotionally endure, according to Peter, strengthens our spirit, strengthens our faith in God.  Suffering in our lives and realizing our faith is becoming stronger also does something else for us.  The martyrs that I spoke of had narratives, information that they wrote about in their letters to their friends and families.  These letters were also shared with communities and passed down from generation to generation.  The anguish that the martyrs felt and their faith that remained strong despite their persecution helped to give guidance and strength to others.

We participate in this offering of strength now.  As we suffer through various trials in life, we share those burdens with one another.  We pray for one another.  We offer counsel to one another.  Because one person whom we love is facing the illness of a child or going through the loss of a parent or enduring a difficult divorce, we suffer with them.  We hurt with them and cry with them.  We pray for them.  And our spirit, I would hope, is also strengthened as well.  Our cries to God on their behalf protects our spirits and helps us to understand and remember the grace of God and the salvation of Christ.

While we do not want pain and suffering, I pray that when we must endure it, we remember the love of God and sacrifice of Christ, forget those trivial portions of our lives that really do not matter, and seek the encouragement of our brothers and sisters in Christ who will love us and pray for us.  And when we see someone hurting, I pray we follow in the steps of those who have come before us and share their burdens by offering counsel, love, and prayer.

“And Job died, an old man, and full of days.”

Pain

My Systematic Theology class had an online discussion thread going last week regarding the reading for Alister McGrath’s Christian Theology.  The thread began with a question of natural catastrophes on the planet and where God is (if anywhere) in that event.  McGrath speaks of “influence and persuasion” regarding God’s nudging man to righteousness.  Numerous examples were posited in the thread:  Moses, Noah, Lot, Job, etc.  We also discussed “natural evil” and what that term means:  can a volcano BE “evil”?   Evil implies a motive to perform an action contrary to good.  But the aftermath of a tsunami or Hurricane Katrina or massive tornadoes certainly aren’t a good thing, right?

On the heels of that discussion for my class, I came across this post from “Christianity Today”.  The article discusses the concept of pain and a theory of why God allows it to happen.  Of course C.S. Lewis discussed pain and its purpose in his The Problem of Pain.  In that work, Lewis writes, “If God were good, he would wish to make his creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty he would be able to do what he wished.  But the creatures are not happy.  Therefore God lacks either the goodness, or power, or both.”  As shocking as this brief passage is if we take it at face value, Lewis continues in support of God’s plan, that He isn’t a masochistic puppet master.

I find the article comforting and encouraging.  I also, selfishly, appreciate the author’s view of pain when I reflect on my classwork because I find I’m not so far from the mark.  It’s a good gauge to reinforce that I’m on the right track.

That’s a “Win!” in my book!!

(title comes from Job 42:17)