For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hopethat the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. Romans 8:20-23
I’ve got a growing list of questions for God when I meet Him in glory. Maybe you do as well. These are questions which I honestly do not expect to have answered this side of Heaven, but which just bother me. A little. I am honestly OK not knowing the answers in this life. I think that is part of our calling to be more and more childlike in our faith. But eventually, I really would like some answers.
I’ve got some questions, but none of my questions are more troubling than those I have heard from hurting people in the midst of unspeakable pain. As a church leader, you know the questions I mean. I hear them from people grieving the loss of a loved one, or from people lamenting their terminal disease diagnosis, or from people just generally trying to understand the utter and complete brokenness of the world in which we live. You know the questions. They all begin the same way: “Why would a loving God…?”
“Why would a loving God ever allow a child to suffer?” “Why would a loving God permit really good people to die really horrible deaths?” “Why would a loving God allow a person to be born into …
Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you… For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Psalm 51:13, 16-17
I have often said I could not fully invest in a pastor who has never suffered deep loss. “Grieving with those who grieve” is a critical part of the pastoral responsibility, and how can a church leader who has never grieved before possibly know how to start doing so now, over somebody else’s pain?
Similarly, I think I would have a difficult time listening to a pastor or teacher or spiritual leader call me to repentance and to confession unless I first know that he/she knows the humiliation of being laid bare before God in a moment of confession. That, it seems to me, is what gives a leader the credibility to “teach transgressors [God’s] ways” and to cause us sinners to return to God.
David expresses this brokenness so very well in Psalm 51, after his sin with Bathsheba. In this Psalm, he shared with all of God’s people his heart broken before the Lord. “Against you and you only have I sinned…” “For I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me.” It is a confession filled with remorse and humiliation. And it calls us to have that same contrite heart before God.
Moreover, Psalm 51 cries out to God for the very type of forgiveness which would later become the earmark of Christ’s church and of Christ-followers around the world. As a leader of other Christians, we must therefore have experienced this very intimate level of confession before we …
Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. Mark 16:2-5
These women had two sleepless nights to start their grieving process. They had something along the lines of 36 hours to mourn their loss and to begin dealing with the harsh reality of life without Jesus. It had to have been painful and scary and confusing. As soon as the Sabbath was over, they started together for the tomb to take care of one bit of unfinished “business”. They were busy making their plans on their way there. Their biggest concern was how they would roll away the stone. It was in the midst of that mundane concern and preoccupation that God provided a game-changing turn of events…the empty tomb.
I think it is God’s nature to change the game on us, His people. I believe his ways are so very different from our ways, His thoughts so far removed from our thoughts, that we will encounter this type of “this-changes-everything” moment often in the church if we are truly seeking after Him. But we don’t dare miss them, right? Here are some observations about the church and our opportunity in this regard…
1. While you’re waiting, continue doing the last thing you knew you were supposed to be doing. Grief is a debilitating thing. It would have been easy for these women to just stay at …
“Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess.” Hebrews 3:1
I have been blessed with only a limited amount of genuine grieving in my life. Frankly, I’ve done a whole lot more consoling of others than I have needed consoling myself. But you don’t have to be an expert on grief to know that it has a profound effect on our ability to see truth. In fact, a part of the healing process is learning to look through the pain to some larger truth which, difficult as it may be to grasp in spite of the pain, still has a way of guiding us.
But did you know that the grief process is not reserved only for individuals? Churches grieve also. They grieve the loss of a much-loved leader, the loss of a ministry or program, the loss of a “way of doing things”, the loss of unity…all of these can cause a type of grieving process for a church. And like the grieving process for an individual, a church’s grief can be unpredictable and unrelenting. It can last a few days or a few years, perhaps even an entire generation. It can cause the church to do and say things it doesn’t mean to do and say. But most of all, just like the grief process for anyone else, it is painful…unbearably so.
Moreover, grief has a way of disorienting us, both as individuals and as congregations. It turns up into down and right into left. It leaves us not even knowing which way to look for direction. It is chaotic and complex and confounding.
So, it is in the pain of real grief where we are often left with little orientation …