Thursday, January 18, 2024

My life is a mess. . .

There is not a pastor alive who has not heard such a statement.  The folks who pour their hearts out to you are complaining not simply about one thing or several but find it hard to see anything right in their lives.  Literally their whole life is a complete mess -- at least that is how it seems.  I understand.  There have been moments when I was ready to draw this same conclusion.  But is it a fair statement?  Or does it even matter if it is accurate?  Could it be that the whole life is a mess or is such a statement simply an emotional exaggeration?

No pastor is surprised anymore by the troubles and trials laid out by an overwhelmed people.  Perhaps we are even inclined to agree.  When a marriage comes undone, when children have health or psychological or developmental problems, when jobs are filled with stress or the jobs disappear, when family struggles leave you with no real support, when finances go south, and when the day is not long enough to begin to tackle these issues, it does seem like the life is a total mess.  Christianity does not come with guarantees that everything will be easy or good.  Jesus even warns us that standing near Him makes us a target as well.  We can and sometimes do feel like Job wondering out loud to God "why?"

Job also appears to be out of step with us.  Instead of throwing up His hands and joining in a litany of complaints and laments like we do, he seems impossibly stoic.  “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Friends and family do not understand him.  “Curse God and die!”  How can we turn to Job when his response is so different from ours and when his story does not seem to offer any real answer to the problem of evil, suffering, and loss?  

Paul does not help either.  Though it appears that sometimes he is hard to deal with, he is also so confident in the future that he seems far removed from where we are also.  And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. (Rom 8:28)  Even Christians have trouble believing that statement without hesitation and with certainty.  But that is exactly what we are to believe and confess in time of trouble when life appears to be a mess.  God is our God.  "If God be for us, who can be against us?"  The God whom we know to be good is the God who called the world into being, even each of us!  He is the God who still preserves the world, who makes it rain on the just and the unjust.  So great is His mercy!  He is still a God of order whose order under girds all things -- especially our lives.  He is a God of providence. Providence is not some theological way out of the abyss of life's messes.  It is also the confession of God's creation, preservation, redemption, and ultimate goal and purpose.  Creation is not simply unwinding into chaos but under it all God's purpose and direction are bringing all things to His appointed end.  That end is ultimately good. The Christian knows this by faith even when the eyes do not see it and the heart does not feel it.

The purpose and providence of God, His careful ordering of us and all things, is not a conclusion you arrive at by the observation of the world.  Sure, the lilies and birds do not work in the same we do but God knows their needs.  They have not learned as we have to fret and worry and lament when life does not go as planned or as we had hoped.  The twists and turns of this mortal life with its changes and chances do not prove God's goodness but the endurance of our lives do.  St. Paul does not affirm God's good purpose because he sees it but because of the cross.  It is precisely because of that cross we know the outcome and end of all things and you and me.  St. Paul was persecuted, stoned as a heretic, run out of town, rejected by the congregations he founded, questioned as if he were a interloper, beaten as a criminal, imprisoned as an enemy, and so much more.  In spite of all this, he knew one thing more.  He knew Christ and Him crucified.  Yes, the world is filled with suffering, violence, injustice, and inequity.  So do we suffer in our daily lives.  But in addition to the jarring dissonance of the world, there is the song of love, the harmony of faith, and the rhythm of life marching not to destruction but to redemption.  For all who love His appearing, this is not some halfhearted consolation. This is our hope.  God's mercy has shown to be greater than all the mess we call this world, this life, and this moment.  That is what it means to confess Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

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