Tuesday, January 26, 2010

What Will I Do With These New Eyes?

As promised, this post will attempt to give words to certain patterns of thought that have been impressed on me over the last little while. One of the main issues that has surfaced has been the prevalence of suffering in the world. Throughout our adoption process and other recent life experiences, my eyes have been opened to see the pain of the world in far greater detail, degree, and scope than I have known in the past. Frankly, this discourages me sometimes. I desperately want to see the whole earth full of the glory of God, but often I see brokenness instead. I'd rather ignore it, looking away, refusing to acknowledge its seriousness, finding something else--something much less troublesome--to distract me from its distressing actuality. But I can't forget. Besides, I am there, too—both suffering and causing suffering for others. I am broken.

In her book, Talking the Walk, Marva Dawn writes about suffering. She reminds me that the detail, degree, and scope of our world’s suffering today are not new. Rather, any suffering I experience—whether it is a personal affliction or an observable reality—must be entrusted to the eternal God, who knows the full extent of both suffering and glory. Her words are both sobering and inspirational:

…Jesus did not suffer only under Pontius Pilate or merely when He died. Jesus’ birth involved the sufferings of poverty, of scandal, of a smelly manger and scratchy hay. Jesus suffered as a refugee from Herod, as a teacher misunderstood by both His family and His closest disciples, as a homeless travelling rabbi constantly worn out by pushy crowds and harassing religious leaders.

Not only did Jesus suffer more in His entire life than we usually acknowledge, but also His sufferings in His last days were more extreme than we customarily imagine. I don’t mean merely that we should focus more on the brutality of His physical punishment as Mel Gibson did in his controversial movie about the Passion. Certainly many people who have been political prisoners have been tortured far more extensively, for much longer periods of time.

I intend instead for us not to undervalue the cost of Christ’s obedience, the severity of the rupture within God’s self in the God-forsakenness of Christ’s total submission to all the powers of evil and His descent to hell. As Alan Lewis makes clear, too often Christians jump too easily to Easter and don’t spend enough time in Holy Saturday looking back to Good Friday without the hope of resurrection.

I suppose we don’t want to take Jesus’ sufferings more seriously because we are not willing to bear them also. We’d rather not think that affliction and weakness are the way God usually works because we would prefer to be successful and powerful ourselves when we do God’s work. Or we don’t want to recognize that where Jesus is suffering today is in the lives of women, children, minorities, the poor, and others who are the victims of our sins. I have been thinking about this quite a bit this Lent as I write. At various conferences people have said such things as “I gave up eating desserts for Lent,” and I have found myself joking, “I gave up walking for Lent.” But to me it is no laughing matter. I’m tired of the pain, of the swollenness of my other leg that’s bearing my weight on crutches, of the preposterously long time it is taking for the burn on my foot to heal. For the past two months I have wished that looking at all the sufferings of Jesus would make me more willing to bear this comparatively minor inconvenience—but I don’t seem to have become more willing, even though I know how small my trials are compared to those of so many in the world who suffer so deeply. I pray that someday I will trust God in everything.

God does not give us an easy calling. “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21). My prayer is that I might, somehow, follow well.

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