Category Archives: Suffering

A Conversation with Jesus About Creation (Part 2)

Suffused with grace.

Part 1

On Friday morning, I opened my Bible to the psalms as part of my usual morning routine of prayer and reflection and read the above passage.

God is all mercy and grace —
   not quick in anger, is rich in love.

God is good to one and all;
   everything he does is suffused with grace.

I read those lines — especially the last line — over and over.

Everything he does is suffused with grace.

Everything?

“It doesn’t feel that way,” I told him. I thought about the Old Testament and all its violence. I thought about the nations that didn’t get to know the God of Israel. I thought about my ongoing struggle with the contents of history.

It sure doesn’t seem like everything God does is suffused with grace.

I sat at my desk, staring at those words, and eventually told God my resistance to their testimony. Then, after a while, I went to sit on the couch in our living room. This has become a place for me to curl up and listen to God when I’m crippled by the noise inside my head. I curl on the couch under a blanket and rest my head against the chest of Jesus.

So there I was on Friday morning, curled up on the couch, that line in the psalm ruminating in my mind. Suffused with grace. 

And Jesus began to talk to me about it.

He didn’t come at it directly. Lately, in my prayer times, we have been walking back and forth along a beach shoreline. We walk and we talk. A lot of the time lately, I do most of the talking. I tell him the ways my heart hurts at all this pain and suffering that I see and know exists and has existed. I sputter and accuse and sometimes cry.

I want him to give me answers for these things, but truthfully, I haven’t slowed down enough to let him speak. I’m too aware of my pain and the magnitude of the questions to let any other voice in.

He has waited for me to be ready, and on that Friday morning, I finally was. I stopped my talking and opened myself to listen to him. And he took his time responding. He looked up at the sky, contemplating where to start responding. He looked over at me and smiled but still walked along the shore with me in silence.

I walked and waited for him to speak. I knew eventually he would.

And he did.

Eventually, he looked back up at the sky and began to speak to me of the time before the beginning of time — the time before creation, when the Godhead of the Trinity existed in pure communion with itself, unadulterated love in cosmic joy.

He led me to contemplate what that pure communion of love and joy among the Trinity was like. True perfection and the fullness of all goodness — a being than which, as Anselm of Canterbury called it, nothing greater can be conceived. Perfect love, perfect truth, perfect justice, perfect kindness, perfect goodness, perfect action: all that is the best, most perfect existence.

Suffused with grace. It occurred to me to ask, “Would grace have existed at this time in God?” There would be no need for grace if nothing but perfection of being — nothing but God — existed at that time. Nothing fell short of perfection or lacked any good thing to render grace necessary. The perfect Godhead acted justly — in perfect correctness and rightness in all things.

Perhaps it was only the introduction of creatures other than God’s own perfect self that rendered the active attribute of grace in God necessary.

So we turned to the act of creation next . . .

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A Conversation with Jesus About Creation (Part 1)

Sun bloom.

A little over a month ago, I read a section of Martin Luther King’s autobiography that caused me to write him a letter and ask, “How did you not despair?”

Ever since that time, I’ve been sinking in a sad state. My heart — at least a solid quarter-quadrant of it — is grieving. It’s a grief that sneaks up on me every now and again in this journey I’ve been walking the last three and a half years. Sometimes the grief over the years comes and goes in an afternoon, sometimes a weekend, or maybe even a week.

This is the longest it has stayed.

And in this place, I’ve deeply wrestled with God. I feels as though my insides have split wide open and that I’m unable to stop feeling or asking him hard questions. Most of those questions circle back to the same central question:

God, where are you in the darkness?

I ask him this question concerning people in my life whom I love dearly who can’t see the light at all. They want badly to find God, yet he seems absent. The God of love and tender care that I have come to know and adore has not shown himself to them.

Where are you, God? 

I beg and plead with him on a regular basis concerning this.

I ask him this question about history, too. (I posted a little bit about those questions already here, here, and here.) And most specifically, the reality of World War II keeps breaking my heart into a million little pieces right now.

My concern about this period of history is not new. I grew up reading books like Number the Stars and The Diary of Anne Frank and The Hiding Place and watched movies like Shining Through and Charlotte Grey, amazed and awe-struck at the courage of those who faced persecution and death and those who fought in their own subversive ways against the evils of Hitler’s world.

So it makes sense, given this history of mine, that World War II would already hold my heart. It has always held my heart. But I also see that it’s close to my mind and heart because of its close proximity, historically, to us today. So many atrocities have happened throughout history — the darkness of 1939-1945 was not new in the whole scope of our world — and yet when my mind travels backward in time, World War II is one of the major dark spots in history that I hit upon most immediately. It is still so close to us.

There are many walls of darkness between then and now. The femicide happening right this moment in the Congo is one of them, and its horrifying reality is almost impossible for me to face. The tiny soldier boys being used as human barricades there in the Congo every single day, too, is another. And there have been plenty of other wars between then and now.

But perhaps World War II has its vise grip upon my heart more than any other atrocity right now because I have more knowledge of the facts of what happened there than I do these other sufferings. I’ve studied it much longer. I’ve read many more books and first-person accounts. I’ve thought about it and cared about it longer than any other large-scale human suffering I’ve encountered.

Or perhaps it is ever-present in my mind simply because of the frequency with which Hitler’s name is invoked as the reason nonviolence makes no sense. “If we didn’t go to war,” I hear again and again, “then Hitler would have won.” World War II is an ever-present companion in conversation among those studying and seeking to live a nonviolent way.

But whatever the reason it’s plaguing my heart right now, here are the facts: six million Jews rounded up and callously slaughtered as though they weren’t human and didn’t matter.

God, where were you there? 

At times, light begins to break through this darkness of mine, short fits and starts at attempted answers to my plaguing questions. Like, for instance, the encouragement of Dr. King’s response to the darkness when he said, “It is well that it’s within thine heart.” Or remembering Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsie — how God was in the darkness of their Ravensbruck barracks in so many tangible ways. Or reading through a difficult section in Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts that wrestled through similarly painstaking questions as mine to land at the revelation that perhaps all is grace.

I stumble across these words and thoughts and memories and seek to hold them tight within my hands. But these hands of mine, they are so weak from wringing and soon lose grip on these encouragements.

And so I keep wrestling with Jesus.

Where are you here?

Where were you there? 

And finally, perhaps most pointed of all:

How could you let that happen?

I sob and sob when asking him this question. How could you let that happen? How could you, Jesus?

There are no easy answers to these questions, and God forbid I desecrate the name and memory of those who did suffer and die — and continue to suffer and die in the darkness of the world — in my attempt to make sense of these things.

I may never make sense of them. And I am slowly, slowly coming to terms with that. Moments like the one I wrote about elsewhere, where Jesus holds and sings over me, begin to make that not-knowing possibility more bearable.

But I will say this.

This morning, the struggle I’ve been sharing with Jesus concerning all this took a new turn. As I also wrote elsewhere, I reached a readiness to listen. And where Jesus began his response surprised me. He took me back to creation.

We aren’t done with the conversation that started this morning, and so I don’t yet know where it will lead or where it will end, but the pieces he’s shared with me so far have brought enough encouragement for me to begin holding the tension of darkness and light with a bit more ease. This series will be my attempt to share pieces of it with you.

Why Must There Be Suffering?

Rocky ground.

I listen to a contemplative podcast most evenings before bed called Pray as You Go. I absolutely love the quiet, reflective time it provides to listen to scripture and sacred music and then converse with Jesus.

Tonight’s podcast opened with a scripture reading from the gospel of Matthew. A lawyer asks Jesus, “What is the greatest commandment?” After reading the scripture passage, the podcast narrator noted that of all the questions someone could have asked Jesus upon approaching him, this one was foremost in this particular person’s mind.

What question, the podcast narrator asked me to consider, would I choose to ask Jesus if I could ask him anything at all?

I don’t normally give questions like this much thought. When I have a question to ask Jesus, I just go to him and ask him. And when I think about those momentous times, like what I might want to ask God when I get to heaven, I don’t expect that any list of questions I bring will be nearly as interesting as the reality of beholding God’s presence for real.

But tonight, I spent time considering the question, and my response surprised me. I found myself asking Jesus, Why must there be suffering?

Now, to some degree, it makes sense that I would ask this question. I write a blog about nonviolence and am concerned about the cares of mercy and justice in this world and in the human heart. Suffering is clearly a concern of my life.

But the way I asked Jesus tonight came from a deeper place inside. A place that gave me pause. A place that felt new. It came from a place inside that’s developed an acute perception of my own experience of suffering right now. It is a suffering that drives me to my knees in repentance and desperate pleas for God’s mercy almost every day. It is also a suffering that seems intent on forging a holy connection in me to Christ’s own passion — a sense of learning to bear injustice while responding in love.

This suffering hurts like hell. It’s hard. It causes a whole mess of pain, and I bring heaviness in my heart to Jesus almost daily. But this suffering is nowhere near the suffering and pain people the world over face every single day. Millions go without food or water right this moment. War and violence rage all day outside the doors of huts and houses in village and cities all over the world. Children and parents die of diseases as though it’s a normal course of life. The hope of tomorrow isn’t a given in so many places around this world.

My suffering is nothing compared to the suffering of these. But still, my suffering is acute and hurts like hell.

And so I found myself feeling so profoundly this question tonight: If that’s how mine feels, what must theirs feel like? 

And that’s why I asked Jesus, Why must this be so? For all the mercy in your heart, for all the power in your being, why must this go on? Why must you let the world keep spinning this way? Why must this be real in this world you made?

I know the intellectual responses to these questions. I know about sin and the fallen world. I know God is sovereign. I know God didn’t create a world to spin on auto-pilot but to be responsive and full of volitional, relational beings. I know God uses our suffering to form us and that such suffering also causes him pain.

But those intellectual responses are simply not my concern right now.

Right now, my concern is the vastness of such suffering. How does God possibly bear it? How does the world not disappear over and over again from the flood of his tears drowning it out? How can he let it go on?

It is in moments like these that I deeply yearn for the new heaven and new earth that will someday come. We are meant for a reality so much greater and grander than this. We are meant for so much more life.

When, oh God, will you allow it to be so? I am so, so ready for that new world.