When Things Go Wrong
A grandmother is baby sitting her small grandchild. The phone rings and she runs into the house to answer it. It was only a minute, but the child falls into the pool and drowns.
There is a knock at the door at 2:00 AM and it is a sheriff’s deputy. “I am sorry to inform you but your daughter was a passenger in a car driven by a kid who was drunk. They had a wreck and your daughter was pronounced dead at the scene.” All of the passengers died except the driver and you find out that the driver is your next door neighbor who grew up playing with your daughter.
Your husband has not been feeling well lately. You finally persuade him to go to the doctor and to your horror, your husband is diagnosed with cancer and it is terminal, six months to live, and there is nothing that the doctors can do.
Your son comes home and he looks pale and sick. He asks you to sit down and he tells you that he has AIDS. After the shock, he tells you the entire story of the ungodly life style he has been living he is unrepentant but he wants to come home.
You have worked hard in your current job and done well and you even have paid off your bills and you think that now for a change you don’t have to live from pay check to paycheck. you don’t have to worry if you make a long distance phone call because it might cost too much. Then you are called to your bosses office and he tells you that your job has been eliminated and there is no place in the company for you because they are in bad financial shape.
These are real. They happen to ordinary people every day. All you have to do is attend prayer meeting in any church and you will hear some of the tragic things in the lives of real people. These and worse things are a part of living, sometimes life goes wrong and we are victims and if you live long enough, life will go wrong for you.
The question is, how do you respond when things go wrong? What do you say to others when the bottom falls out of their life? Do you say anything? Do you use nice platitudes and quaint sayings to try to ease the pain? In light of the Resurrection (next Sunday is Easter) how do you respond?
When these and other things happen I have no human answer that can bring comfort. I have to acknowledge that this is the human condition. It seems that tragedy goes out of its way to cause sorrow in the lives of those who never expect it. To me the real question is not why does it happen, but given the nature of our world, why does it not happen more often? Evil is real, bad things happen, even good people do bad things to each other. It would appear that this is the best we can hope for.
But there is a biblical answer that is beyond our human wisdom. God tells us that he loves us. We often say if he loves us, then why these terrible events? Can we not see that we want God to weave life in such a way that we live charmed lives, where only good things could happen? In such a world, you do not have choices or will of any sort. Your life is like a train on a track, you can go nowhere unless the track leads you. Does that sound like love?
God has chosen to complete the cycle of life that he created, one that has a beginning and an end. In that life, he gave us choice and humanity chose to rebel against God. The meaning of the world â€œsinâ€ is rebellion. Instead of scrapping the project and starting over, God immersed himself into our world. God became flesh. You cannot find three more profound words than those. It is a mystery that is beyond all of our collective minds. Why would God who lives in eternal bliss want to come among us much less become one of us? The unfathomable answer is love. He loved us.
In this case, love means that, not only does God suffer with us, but for us as well. I have had people to ask me why does it matter that Jesus suffered as a man, he went back to heaven, he was God wasnâ€™t he, as if the suffering was somehow fake. Two things come to mind. We cannot say that God does not know our troubles. The humiliation of God becoming flesh and the suffering of God on the cross cuts through the fellowship of tri-personal God and he understands our sufferings existentially and fully. When God speaks to us in our suffering, he knows what it means personally.
The second reason is that by becoming one of us and suffering with us, Jesus showed us how we are to live in the midst of suffering. He was our trailblazer. As believers we are to do what Jesus did. What did he do? He was faithful and he spent a lot of time in prayer with the Father from whom he received strength. If we follow in the footsteps of Jesus, we too will remain faithful and we will spend time with the Father in prayer. But we may object, He was God in the flesh, he is different from us. But if we look carefully, especially in the Gospel of John, you will find that Jesus lived a life in the Spirit. In other words, he showed us how to live in the Sprit before God. The Holy Spirit came upon him at baptism, lead him into the wilderness and through Satanâ€™s temptations and he lead him throughout his life before men. He was our example of one who lives life in the Spirit. It may not be so evident to us but Jesus said â€œI do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me.â€ John 8:28. This does not mean that Jesus was less than fully God. Rather, Jesus took on these kinds of limitations to show us how to live. He lived by the leading of the Holy Spirit and by the Word of God. When we wonder what it means to live the Christian life, we need to return to the life of Jesus and glean from him the how and why of living.
But we also know that Jesus suffered for us. It is his suffering on the cross and the resurrection that followed that finally gives us a response to the suffering and tragedy that we suffer in this life. God has not transformed the world. He has not made suffering go away. I equate our lives to a game of cards. We have chosen the hand and it has to be played. The rules are complex because there is more to it than our choices and the consequence of our choices. God enters the game and he changes the final outcome. The game is played out but the act of God, the hand that God chooses will overcome all other hands and he wins the game.
God became flesh and entered our suffering as one of us. But as God he overcame the root cause of our suffering which is sin. He both resisted it in life and in his death, he defeated it by being our sacrifice, our atonement. Our salvation was an infinite price paid, one that more than adequately covers our sins forever. Those of us who are in Christ are now playing by his rules, the rules of his hand, not the one we chose. We cannot change the consequences of sin, we cannot bring back lost loved ones or fix a broken life. But we can cling to Christ who will one day make all things new, and make all things right. In other words, we will overcome the pain and suffering and tears. We are promised that as Jesus was raised to a glorious life, we too will be raised. Even here, Jesus is teaching us how to live and where to walk.
Paul described the difficulties of life as momentary light afflictions: 2 Corinthians 4:17 â€œFor momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.â€ Paul is not making light of our suffering. He is saying that our future is so much bigger than our current troubles that they will seem small by comparison. I know that is hard to understand. Maybe a mother can understand, one who went through the pain of childbirth and then the joy of the child.
C. S. Lewis wrote an essay years ago on the Eternal Weight of Glory. It has fascinated me ever since I first read it more than thirty years ago. I cannot comprehend the word glory. It has to do with light, brilliance. But Paul adds the dimension of weight, it is heavy, it is of extreme value and importance. It is of such value that it makes all of our sufferings, all of the injustices, all of the tragedies seem like momentary light affliction. Lewis described our future this way:
It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. (The Weight of Glory, p. 38)
This is unexplored territory for us. We have not been there. All we can do is rely on witnesses. Those who knew Jesus, knew the horror of his death on the cross. They very well knew what death looked like and smelled like. They even lost all hope. But something glorious happened. The tomb was empty. And the risen Christ came to them, at first to Mary and then some of the disciples and then more. According to Paul, more than 500 witnesses saw and heard him. I am sure that many like Thomas, touched him just to make sure. Their witness has come to us as Holy Scripture, inspired by God, recorded by men and preserved for us so that we can know the Apostolic witness to the God who became flesh, died for us, and rose from the dead.
This is our hope. It is not a simple answer to the sufferings of life but it is as complete as we have. Those who reject the idea of God and heaven and resurrection, have very little to offer. All they can hope for is a pleasant life and a quiet death with no meaning or purpose in either. Those of us who come to Christ, know the power of the Holy Spirit in both our conversion and in our daily living. We know that we do not walk alone. We read the witness of Scripture and see the evidence and we know the probability is high that it is true. But before we become too proud of ourselves, we know that God has done a great work in us, he has quickened us and made us alive in Christ because by our fallen nature we were hostile to God in every way. It is only because of the deep love that God has for us that he pursued us, called us out of our darkness, made us alive in Christ so that we might repent of our darkness, and place our faith in him. We are overwhelmed by his grace.
We know that if we are not careful, we may become of the mind that says, see what great choices I have made. But it is not true. Left to our own devices, we would have walked in darkness until we stepped off the cliff into meaninglessness and into judgment. So, perhaps we can get a glimpse as to why God did not change the world but chose to join us and change us; so that we might have an honest memory of whom we are and what he has done.
7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; 8 we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. ( 2 Corinthians 4:7-10)
It may be that those most wounded by life are the ones who are most able to live the Christian life. So what do we say to when things go wrong? Most of the time, we donâ€™t have to say anything. We have to show them Christ, the one who suffers for us and with us.