Friday, May 22, 2009

Things That Don't Go Together

“… that they would seek God, perhaps grope for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.” —Acts 17:27

This past week I saw two things that didn’t seem to go together. One was a dusting of snow on our newly unfurled tree leaves. The other was a ridiculously active sloth at the zoo. Frozen spring leaves. A fast-moving sloth. Things that don’t go together. This got me thinking about other things that don’t go together, words that should never be in the same sentence like “child” and “cancer.” All of us, if we have our eyes open, will be called at some point to hold grace in one hand and pain in the other and wonder how we’re supposed to put them together.

The life of Christ perhaps best exemplified this holding of opposites, putting together things like “blessed” and “mourn,” “death” and “resurrection.” To ignore the places where these words clash together is to miss something fundamentally important about faith. And yet there are people who resolve the tension by choosing one side and ignoring the other; whose placid smiles choose grace and can’t really get their hands dirty on the pain side. The world needs more people who are willing to stand in that place of tension and be honest about pain, even the pain of holding on to faith in the midst of loss.

There are times we seek God with our minds and our rational beings and there are times when, failing everything else, we are left to grope in the dark. Times when there are no easy answers, when there are no answers at all. But we who are compelled to ask the questions stand there, hands open, looking now at grace and now at pain, and raising our hands in surrender to the one who reconciled opposites, who reconciled us, with his blood.

Friday, May 8, 2009

I'm Just Asking a Question

“Jim, what are you doing?”
“I’m asking a question.”
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, on meeting “God”

“God may well slay me; I may have no hope. Yet I will argue my case before God.”
—Job 13:15

I’ve heard two people recently point to something good in their lives and give God thanks for it, along the lines of “God knew I needed this.” And while I am happy for their good fortune, I wonder if they have taken time to go the next step: if God knew they needed it, what does mean when someone else, someone equally loved and valued by God, does not receive the thing that is needed? God knew you needed it. Does God not know that she needs it too?

Even though I wish it were otherwise, a large part of me still believes the lie that God’s love is equal to God’s provision for me. God loves me, therefore good things happen to me. Bad things happen and I am thrown into doubt. God has not provided. I know the key to what we are promised is God’s presence with us, not abundance or smooth sailing or anything of the sort. “In this world you will have trouble.” That is what we are told.

But I want to ask God a question. I want to know how we are supposed to believe he is with us, trust that he has not forgotten us when all the evidence points to the contrary. I want to ask God: “Where are you? Where are you for all the voices that even this night are crying out for relief from sickness, sorrow, and suffering? Where are you? And why don’t you do something?”

I’m just asking a question. I am made bold by biblical companions like Job, the Talmudic tradition of arguing with God, and even the modern-day example of Captain Kirk. What am I doing? I am asking God a question. I don’t expect an answer. Just, for a while, to burn with the words I need to ask. And to hope, as a friend reminded me with a quote from Rainer Maria Rilke, that I am able to “love the questions themselves” and trust that one day I will “gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”