It is interesting how God works! As I am in the midst of adjustment it never fails a crisis arises. People come in with news that seemed like the oddity when talking about it in pastoral class or with older ministers, but maybe this is the new norm. There are those that lament the continual fall of our country and our world from the Christian faith, but I guess I would look at it as a realignment. Maybe the things that I have come across since entering ministry are not so much an oddity, but a sign of the suffering that has been around all along, but remained in the shadows hidden. As I read through Scripture I can see the signs of it throughout the witness of the early Church. The early apostles and disciples walked in a world which the message of Jesus Christ was very foreign and dangerous. We can see that in the witness of Paul at the Areopagus (Acts 17) when he witnessed to the great thinkers of Athens about Jesus Christ or as he speaks in his letters about the suffering he has faced for the cross. Peter and John write in their writings also about how we are to be different than the world in our love and hospitality. We, also, walk with a different hope. It’s really hard to find hope in suffering, but that is exactly what the Bible calls us to.
As I pray and think of ways to come to God in “prayer and praise” I look to the Psalms as David, whose heart is the heart that I strive to emulate because our Lord says that he had a “heart after my own heart” even though he was sinful and broken, he cries out to God and yet praises him all the same. As he is in the deepest and darkest oppression running from Saul, running from his son, crying out to God at the loss of not only one son, but two. I see how God used him and how in the midst of it he praised God. Psalm 26 as he is crying out for vindication he gives praise. Psalm 40 he cries out in deliverance. Psalm 46 he celebrates the protection given him by God. I know that throughout the Psalms I can turn page after page and find words that reflect my own state and sing out to the Lord with great hope in the midst of sadness and suffering as well as many celebratory words given in times of blessing. It is amazing how God does work in the great depths of our broken souls. I find hope in Paul’s words in Romans 8:26 which is surrounded by calls of prayer and the promise of the intervention of the Spirit in the midst of our prayers during times of great suffering and pain. Jesus gives great witness of the power of prayer in times of hopelessness with Lazarus at the tomb, the servant of the Roman Centurion, the young daughter of the Synagogue leader, and many others. When our hearts ache we see a great witness throughout Scripture of how God meets us there.
It’s interesting that as I read through Scripture I find a great witness in suffering that unfortunately, we, as the Church have seemed to have forgotten or lost. Maybe, it has to do with this modern concept that seems to be prevalent in Christianity that seems to make the conversion of faith to be a means to bring an end to suffering and, for a period, made those hurting and suffering Christians felt that it was sinful to express suffering or pain in the place that was the meant to be a place of healing and renewal. As I ponder this, I wonder, how can we make our sanctuaries places of sanctuary for the wounded? A place that hearts can cry out and weep in anguish with the arms of fellow believers prepared to wrap us up in prayer, comfort, refreshment, and renewal. Not to say that there is hopelessness, but that their is space for healing. We aren’t to wail and cry out as if we have no hope, but is it not acceptable to cry out in our journey to that foot of the cross where we can lay our burdens down and just cry before the redeeming God as we mourn the things that have broken us in this world as we step into the newness given to us in Jesus Christ? Maybe these are just ponderings of a man who is filled with an idyllic view of the faith, but what I see in myself is the tears of the prostitute at Christ’s feet weeping to wash them with her tears and kissing them with the gratitude of hope and drying them with her hair as she was washed in forgiveness and stepped into the new life offered her by Christ. I see the tears as refreshment from pain that leads me to joy, though they do often hurt when the come out.
In a world filled with many that have placed their faith in the false hope of this world and have created a Christ that seems to be more of a friend than a savior. I have also felt the burden of placing hope in idols that are not all bad, but offer no hope of salvation. We worship a living and risen God in Jesus Christ who died upon a cross for our sins, but not only that, he defeated death and the grave by rising from the grave and entering into eternity for us. This is greater than any image of an angel because it is the image of the Creator who entered his own creation to redeem it unto himself. This Creator is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit eternal and that is the only hope I can cling to in the midst of suffering. As my heart feels heavy from time to time I cling to those promises given to me in those waters of baptism and reminded of in the words of Paul to the Romans (Romans 6) and to Titus (Titus 3). May you also be able to praise Christ in the midst of suffering and pain.